Roger Cowdrey - International Business Consultant. Writer & Motivational Speaker
My Blog

Young people can take the truth about the future!

Recently I returned to England as an alumni to attend a celebration of student achievements, including entrepreneurship breakthrough Awards, and to deliver a lecture.

When I first started to give lectures on entrepreneurship I half expected to be thrown out on my ear! Not surprising since my first lecture was entitled 'Failure is an Option'. I thought that a message that destroyed the whole concept of permanent success through the education system, leading to a good class degree that would lead to a job for life was not what the educators wanted their students to hear.

How do you plan for a future that you cannot predict?

Two things that happened over the last week have prompted this week's blog. The first was a statement in the UK budget that addressed investment in driverless cars and the second was my preparation for a lecture I am delivering in a week's time where I am addressing preparation for the future.

As far as driverless cars were concerned, I thought that government were being quite progressive until I started looking into the subject of driverless transport. I know that we have had limited driverless transport in places like airports and in towns where there are dedicated rails, but it had not occurred to me that we would look at driverless lorries and vans.

Time for Innovation in Diplomacy?

Recently I was listening to Donald Trump with his comments about trade deals and the more I thought about it the more it struck a cord. Not because I have suddenly become a born-again Trumpite, but because it got me thinking again about an area that has long concerned me.
I am referring to the area of diplomacy when I am sure that the good relationships established between courtiers and noblemen of the past served their purpose in allowing countries to keep an eye on each other and to perhaps do a little mutual trade.

Unwrapping the conditioning

I was recently preparing a background synopsis in readiness for a radio interview that I am soon to make. The interviewer wanted an outline of my life so as to understand how I got to where I am today.
I saw the interview as an ideal opportunity to yet again encourage people to think outside of the box and to encourage them to be entrepreneurial and achieve more than  what society tries to determine for each of us.
Looking back I am pleased with what I have achieved and I believe that my life accurately mirrors much of what I espouse to the young of today.

When does corporate mentality overtake innovation?

This week the press has been full of the latest Apple launch. One commentator likened the event to a religious ceremony and there are certainly similarities with the glass temples of California with its devoted faithful worshipping at the altar of MasterCard!
 
It is certainly a story of incredible growth over the ten years since the launch of the first iPhone, but can we really see Apple as the innovative entrepreneur of the past decade or has it developed into the big corporate that is driven purely by profit?

Is development aid really helping?

Recently I took part in a conference on Industry 4.0. Without getting to technical, it talked about the linking of robots, AI and the internet of things to manage the whole manufacturing process with minimal intervention. Clearly the opportunities go far further than just manufacturing, but that was the one element that we focused on.
 
Views on the subject ranged from fear that this would lead to the loss of countless jobs to others that saw the exciting possibilities of remove mundane jobs from the manufacturing cycle.

Rearranging the seats on the Titanic

Today is the day that 18 year olds in the UK get their A Level results and this will generate a wide variety of responses. For some this will be mean momentary happiness as they prepare for university; for some there will be panic as they rush to find an alternative course that will accept them and for others there will be the despair of wondering what they will do now.
 
But underlying all of this is a real concern as to whether or not it matters! For the whole process underpins a system that, if you make it to the degree stage, will produce an average starting salary of about £4000 per annum less than the UK average wage.

What about creativity clubs

Recently I had a conversation with a parent who's child had been "diagnosed" with ADHD by a teacher within one month of the child starting school. A meeting with a doctor who read the teacher's referral, and spoke to the parent for 2 minutes, confirmed the diagnosis.

Luckily the parent sought further information and a second opinion and it was confirmed that the child did not have ADHD. This fact was further confirmed by the teaching staff one year later!

It was determined that the child was particularly creative with a particular skill in working on computer gaming apps.

What degree?

Recently I was talking at a seminar on Industry 4.0 in front of a university audience of mainly engineers. Whilst the subject proved interesting and enlightening to the audience, it also clearly raised a number of concerns amongst the students in the audience. 
 
There were many speakers on the implementation of Industry 4.0 as well as those that gave examples of Industry 4.0 in action. However, when questioned by concerned students regarding what advice the speakers could offer them there were only platitudes.

Stop wasting the opportunity!

Last night I went to the cinema to see the film The Circle. Whilst the ending of the film itself seemed achieved with undue haste, and with a contrived solution to create a happy ending, the film overall left me thinking enough to write this piece.
 
The film centres on a social media platform that starts to grow its applications without any thought for downsides and with slavish acceptance of the direction that the few at the top are taking the company.
 
Clearly the film draws on parallels with existing IT companies, with evangelistic meetings where mass euphoria and blind acceptance is the order of the day.

Back to Basics

Sometimes when I am searching for a subject for the latest blog I realise that one doesn’t need to get too deep and meaningful. Indeed, often it is good to be reminded of the simple basics that make a business work.
 
Recently I attended a conference that included a large number of start-ups pitching for investment. As I sat through what seemed like a marathon it seemed to me that the desire to create and expand had led many of them to forget basic principles.
 
I categorised the businesses into two sections.

Socially Responsible Entrepreneurship

I have written in the past about the disgusting disparity between the richest and the poorest in the world, and it was brought into even sharper focus with a report that stated that the eight richest people in the world have the same net worth as the bottom 50% or 3.6 Billion!
 
It seems no time at all since it took three hundred people to match the 50%, and even last year it took 62 individuals. It cannot be very long before the richest person in the world can match the bottom 50% on his or her own.

Singapore - The next innovation step?

I have recently visited Singapore and one cannot but help to be impressed by this city/state. From the moment that you step off the plane there is an air of cleanliness and high tech moulded into a organised and aesthetically pleasing society.
 
The more one delves into Singapore the more one finds things to admire. Singapore is a clean and modern looking city with state of the art structures moulded together with open green spaces.
 
Transport is modern and efficient with a high dependence on technology.

Disabled or differently abled?

Write your post here.This week is United Nations International Day for Disabled Persons and I was busy getting ready to speak at an event on the day.

 
The first thing that struck me was that we still refer to people as disabled because there is something different about them to the accepted norm of a human being.
 
My concern is that I find it impossible to define the perfect human being, as we are all different and unique. Does it mean that shorter people or taller people are disabled; does it mean that fatter or thinner people are disabled; does it mean that people with ginger hair or bald people are disabled?

Try taking your fingers out of your ears

It was only a few months back that I was writing a blog on the lessons for business from the Brexit vote. The most important of these lessons was the need to listen to the people that you are dealing with.
 
Yesterday I awoke to find that America had clearly not learnt that lesson. And yet the signs had been there for all to see. When Trump said he would stand for the presidency everyone enjoyed the joke and didn’t even give him a chance of getting the nomination.
 
When he got the nomination with comparative ease, despite serious opposition from the establishment, no one gave him a chance in the battle with Clinton.

What is wrong with entrepreneurship

Recently I was preparing a report and I put in it that the local university had 12,000 potential entrepreneurs. When the document was reviewed I was told that it was an arrogant and slightly over the top statement.
 
Quite frankly, given that the report was supposedly on an entrepreneurship project, I was astounded at the comment. But then I began to realise that people look at entrepreneurship a bit like the British look at their class structure.
 
The British recognise that there are various classes and they realise that they all have a right to exist, but they don't see why either sid should mix with or aspire to be the other.

Olympic Lessons for Entrepreneurs

It may be because of my passion for my work on entrepreneurship, but I seem to see lessons and parallels for entrepreneurs in so many things that happen daily.
 
This week I have seen my evenings dominated by the Olympic Games from Rio and the first thing that struck an entrepreneurial cord was the performance of the American swimmer, Michael Phelps.
 
Now I have always been opposed to the belief that disruptive children should be diagnosed with the 1990s illness of ADHD. Apart from the fact that we are treating a mental condition with drugs, too many people are being diagnosed with the condition simply because academia bores them.

Credibility is more important than titles!

For a long time now there has been a tendency to try and enhance positions through the use of exaggerated job titles. We all laugh at titles such as Talent Delivery Specialists where once HR was sufficient, and the paperboy that has now become a Media Distributor.

However, this use of job titles has often been used to try and deceive people into believing a business is much larger than it is. CEO is now attached to the business card of even sole traders.

However, the title game reached a new level of idiocy this week thanks to someone with a real title.

Lessons for business from Brexit

As I watched the vote on whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, it was no surprise when the result was the one no one thought would happen. Even those that campaigned to leave thought they had lost.
 
So what went wrong and what are the lessons, both at vote time and subsequently, for business owners running their own businesses?
 
The first thing that went wrong is that the people who were voting were not listened to. While the people worried about immigration, the bosses in parliament focused on the economy.

Teaching transferrable skills

In the last blog I talked about skills and said I would look at some of the ways we could better serve our young people. But before I do, I just have to recount another of these wonderful research studies that hit the papers this week.

According to the headlines, the research proved that self settling of young babies was more effective in getting them to sleep. The study had three groups; those that were put to bed and not picked up again; those that had their bedtime delayed by fifteen minutes each time until a tome when they fell asleep was reached; and the group that got picked up.

The importance of skills

Recently a number of things have reminded me that we spend a disproportionate mount of time on qualifications and not enough on skills.
 
I was reading an article in which employees were saying how people coming out of university were lacking in the skills they required of new applicants. This is despite 95% of students believing that they left with all of the skills necessary to embark upon their chosen career.
 
I am not surprised by this as, when I was in university and was getting ready to become a teacher in a secondary school, I remember asking for some sessions on class control and blackboard technique.

A guest blog - A fish called Ghoti

Write 
There must be many people who are aware that ‘Ghoti’ is another way of spelling ‘fish’. This is achieved by pronouncing the ‘gh’ as in rough, the ‘o’ as in women, and the ‘ti’ as in motion. It takes a particular type of brain to use the idiosyncrasies of the English language in this way. It requires both knowledge (of the English language) analysis (of its peculiarities) and creativity (to produce an alternative word form).
 
To succeed, the writer must have a brain that functions in many different areas all at once.

Too Much Information! Or (This Otis regrets its unable to lift today!)

 I was sitting near to a couple of lifts waiting for my wife and I had the opportunity to observe people using the lifts for quite a time.

 
Now, despite my advancing years, I have been pretty efficient when it comes to operation of the elevator. If I want to go up then I press up and if I want to go down I press down. That is to say I press the button that has an arrow on it pointing in the direction that I want to go.
 
Imagine my surprise as I saw countless people wrestling with two up buttons and two down buttons for these two lifts.

Will governments ever learn from business?

Whether we look at the crazy US Presidential Primaries, the elections in Germany or the attitudes on the UK to the recent budget, one thing is abundantly clear. People are fed up with governments that pretend to be democracies but which seem to serve only themselves and big business.
 
This was brought home to me particularly forcefully after last week’s budget in the UK. Great play was made of the proposed sugar tax on companies making products with high sugar content. Even a prominent chef who had campaigned for such action happened to accidentally appear outside Parliament as it was announced.

Am I too old to run a business?

I make no secret of the fact that I am past the age of retirement but still working on new projects, writing blogs, proposals and books and continuing to take on speaking engagements. Indeed, my life is now the busiest it has ever been. And yet I am constantly asked either ‘are you retired’ or ‘when are you going to retire.
 
I am not sure whether people are worried that I am missing out on sitting in a shed at the bottom of the garden or sitting on a bench in the park, or whether they feel I should step aside and let someone younger have a go!

Let's follow the garbage truck!

A story in the newspaper and an incident in town both contributed to my thoughts for this week’s blog.
 
The story in the newspaper related to a mother who advocated starting to build their child’s CV from birth! Thus not only making sure that the child was enrolled for the best school, but also making sure that they got involved in a wide variety of activities. Even the activities, such as horse riding, involved choosing the best stables for the CV!
 
The justification for this was the fact that she had managed to produce two doctors and a solicitor from her three boys!

Government and Entrepreneurship - Oxymoron

Working in a number of countries with very different political structures, I have come to the conclusion that none of the structures are conducive to entrepreneurship.
 
All governments, in one way or another, thrive on control. The whole premise of their existence is that they know best how to tackle all problems. Whether the government verges on dictatorship, or purports to be a democracy, the effect is the same.
 
One of the reasons for this is that governments appear to believe that their only weapon in the conduct of their duties is that of regulation.

Entrepreneurship DESPITE government

As someone that still spends most of their time writing projects, giving lectures or working with organisations and businesses in the entrepreneurship arena I am a firm advocate of the value and importance of entrepreneurship.
 
I am a particular advocate of entrepreneurship as a life choice for the young men and women of the world and as a real alternative to the socially acceptable white-collar work for the well-qualified academic.
 
I am greatly encouraged by the work being done in education, in business and in academic institutions to reverse the trend of conformity of the last 150 years and to counter the outdated beliefs of society.

When did your company last have a WOW moment?

Last week I was talking at the 14th Management Summit in Istanbul. The title of the talk was 'The need for creativity in the workplace'. However, given that I was on immediately after lunch I decided that the audience needed something a little more awakening and hence my talk changed its title to WOW!

In putting the talk together I realised that more and more companies lack WOW moments. In other words, everyone from the CEO downwards effectively go to the meeting factory and the business speak production line!

Entrepreneurship and Education - A better fit!

Last week I talked about the diverse academic subjects that seem to have entrepreneurship dumped on them and my belief that education needed a revolution rather than its failed evolution.

The more I deal with entrepreneurs and enjoy watching their successes, the more I realise that they have succeeded despite the education system and not because of it. Too many of them have had to risk the wrath of adults for not sacrificing the life they really want on the altar of qualifications.

We have failed to realise that the education system for the Industrial Revolution is not what is required in today's ever changing and faster moving innovative world.

Entrepreneurship - An uncomfortable fit for education

Recently, as part of some other work I was doing I started investigating where entrepreneurship sits in the present education system. When I was a teacher in the education system some 40 years ago entrepreneurship wasn't even a word in the regular spelling tests.

Over the course of the last forty years I had assumed that some progress had been made and hence my investigations. I was not entirely surprised by the results I discovered having had regular contact with education establishments since leaving the  mathematics teaching part of my life.

Safety and creativity are mutually exclusive

Th either day I was bemoaning the lack of imagination and innovation in today's television; a medium that has had a long tradition of artistic creativity.

The thing that particularly caught my eye was a new programme coming to British television after the apparent success of a programme based on people competing for a prize by baking cakes and called the Great British Bake Off! This new programme was to follow the same formula but was to see potters (people who make things out of clay) competing using the same basic formula and called the Great Pottery Throw Down!

Learning from Magaluf....

Recently I was fascinated and slightly amused to hear that there is a plan developed by the good people of Magaluf to turn it from its present image to an up-market, family-friendly resort!
 
For those that are unaware of this ‘holiday’ resort, it is on the Spanish island of Majorca. It has built a reputation as somewhere for young European tourists to go and get very drunk and then to demonstrate the most debauched and often dangerous behavior. Here the beautiful white beaches are simply a place to sleep off hangovers before returning to the bars for another round of drunkenness.

The second KISS!

As I say about much of my work with businesses, most of what I do is common sense. My advantage is that common sense isn't that common! No where is that more true than in developing marketing material.

When talking to new businesses I tell them that I will give them four simple rules regardless of the type of marketing material that they are producing. Inevitably this comment usually creates a very negative response from the marketing companies in the room. 

However, at the end of giving the four golden rules for producing marketing material, the marketeers in the room normally tell me that I am annoying, but right!

KISS - Keep it short and simple

One of the potential problems for the new entrepreneur lies in the area of marketing and marketing communications. Most business disciplines lend themselves quite readily to formal training.

However, marketing seems to fall into one of two areas. Either it is something that everyone thinks is so easy that they can all do it or else it becomes a dark art of over-complication by marketing companies hell-bent on proving that it isn't easy!

In my working life I have come across examples of both attitudes.

The paradox of fear!

Whether you discuss at the personal level, at the business level or at governmental level, most people will espouse the value of a creative, innovative and entrepreneurial culture.
 
Therefore, it is amazing how many individuals; businesses and governments avoid actually taking actions that would encourage such a culture in their own lives or organisations.
 
One of the main reasons appears to be fear. The most obvious reason in our risk-averse society is the fear of failure. However, an even greater reason for not encouraging such a culture is the fear of losing control.

Lessons from the Rugby World Cup

One of the common areas of difficulty for the new entrepreneur is that of human resource management (as they refer to it in the latest text books), or what to do about staff if you are a normal person.
 
I have often given tips such as:
 
·      Don’t employ people just for status, do it for a reason
·      Don’t expect people to have the same passion for your business as you have, they are likely to have a life outside as well!
·      Recognise that money is not a motivator, although lack of money can be a demotivator

Beware the double-edged sword!

I checked recently when I saw a tweet that said that the advantage of being over 40 years old is that you did all of your stupid things before the internet existed!

Then a day or so later I read about the social media debacle by Nutella. Apparently they ran a promotion where you could use the first two letters 'NU' and then add your own ending! 

Apart from the fact that they decided to tell us all that the start of the word is pronounced 'NEWT' and not 'NUT', hence sounding totally pretentious for a spread, this competition was like giving the asylum over to the lunatics!

You could, but should you?

I have long been an advocate of the entrepreneur with the creative and innovative mind. However, after the last couple of days I think this blog should urge caution!
 
While I still believe in the infinite creativity of the human mind, I also think that those who use this talent need to do so responsibly. In other words, you may know you can create something, but should you?
 
This blog topic came to me at the weekend when I was attending a beautiful performance by the Korean National Opera of the Opera, Soul Mate.

Don't try this at work!

It is that time of year again when the publicity starts for the new Guinness Book of Records.  Ignoring the fact that September is pretty early to start pushing a book that peaks at around Christmas time, another thought struck me as I reviewed some of the new entries.
 
It is all too easy to dismiss the eccentricity of people that want to do some of the things in the book in the hope of achieving their fifteen minutes of fame. However, underneath the wild and often dangerous challenges that people undertake in order to be crowned number one in some obscure discipline I saw another trait emerging.

Let's fight obesity in business

I have written before about the damage done as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Yet again this week we see that over 2000 British financiers received salaries of over 1 million Euros and the head of Berkeley Homes received over 23 million GBP, second only to the boss of marketing services group WPP on 43 million GBP.
 
This led me to look more deeply into the pay of those at the top, and I discovered that the average wage of the CEOs in the FTSE 100 is over 4 million GBP and even Michael Jackson, who you may have noticed is dead, is still earning over 100 million dollars!

What children really want!

I am now back refreshed and relaxed after my cruise around the Baltic Sea. Although I chose to avoid laptops and tablets for the duration, Scandinavia in particular gave me some interesting insights into some aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Whether it was imaginative ways to produce a carbon neutral city as they aim to do in Copenhagen, whether it was about non-intrusive methods of alternative, sustainable energy production, whether it was a stimulating idea for children such as the Experimentarium in Copenhagen harbour, or whether it was ideas such as growing grass on roof tops as insulation, or the conversion of the hop on, hop off bus  to the hop on hop of boat in Stockholm harbour, I was impressed by many ingenious and creative ideas.

Let the children play!!

Just as I was thinking of packing for my holiday from both work and blogging, a newspaper article appeared that made me think that I needed to get my thoughts down in case the delights of the holiday caused me to forget.

I have spoken before about the need for creativity in today's global and fast moving world. I have also talked before about the sorts of things that we need to be doing if, as parents, we are going to encourage that creativity in our own children.

In the past it has also been easy to blame governments, schools, the media, the European Union or any other flavour of the month.

A lesson from Ancient Greece

Recently my lovely wife trapped me into watching a romantic comedy on the TV. Towards the end my ears pricked up at a quote by one of the characters that said ‘You know Ancient Greeks didn’t write obituaries, they just asked whether the person had passion’.
 
It occurred to me that this was equally appropriate for entrepreneurs of today when assessing their likelihood of success and their ultimate business performance.
 
During my work I come across many would-be entrepreneurs with all sorts of ideas.

Businesswomen should show strength not weakness

I have long been an advocate for more women in business and I will continue to be so. I strongly believe that we need their entrepreneurial ideas coupled with their organisational skills and multiprogramming capabilities in today’s fast moving world. The traditional male dominated business model is often too cumbersome and rigid to adapt to today’s fast changing world.
 
However, I have a word of warning to those women that decide to enter into the business world. If you wish to do so you should play to the strengths of women and stop trying to emulate your stereotyped image of the male businessperson.

You never know until you try!

One of the biggest inhibitors to becoming an entrepreneur is the person themselves. All to often they start from the wrong position by asking themselves ‘can I do it?’

I often recall the words of Richard Branson when he reckoned that if anyone asked him if he could do something he would invariably say yes and then work out how he was going to do it!

For a while I wondered what would happen if he ever found out that he couldn’t do it? How would he cope with that? But then I looked at the history of the Virgin Company and realised that failure was sometimes a necessary part of learning a lesson.

Self sustaining entrepreneurial deserts.

One of my roles as an international consultant is to act as a technical writer on drafting of economic development projects. Invariably the focus of the project is to develop the businesses in order to increase employment and thereby develop the economy of the local region.

Invariably these projects target areas of lower than average economic performance and focus on the primary industries of the area where it is assumed that increased efficiency is the answer.

Usually the primary industry is one of producing a particular raw material or categories of raw materials.

Timing is everything!

While walking through Antalya this week I got the inspiration for this week's blog in the newly finished garden complex in the centre of the town. However, more of that later.

The idea got me to researching people that were ahead of their time in inventing things that came to fruition much later. I remembered the early eighties when portable, pocket TVs appeared. Of course, screen quality was poor and in black and white, transmission was analogue with plenty of white noise and the only daytime TV was cricket.

Think what makes you different.

One of the big mistakes that entrepreneurs make is to underestimate the competition. All of us have opinions on what is wrong with the large companies that we deal with every day, and everyone has a view on how to put it right!

Of course, in reality, many of these so called fixes are impractical and are designed to fix the personal problem of the observer rather than find a solution for the masses of customers.

Much of this activity is harmless banter and makes for interesting debate over coffee, or the second beer.

Are there lessons in the FIFA scandal?

We seem to live in a world where scandal at the top of organisations is a way of life for some. Whether it be banks, governments or, lately, the men responsible for football, corruption has become endemic. 

As one watches senior banking officials still receiving large bonuses for ruining economies; politicians giving derisory punishments to a few while carrying on as if nothing has happened; or the FIFA President feigning no knowledge of the corrupt practices of the entire two tiers of executive immediately below him, start-up businesses would be forgiven for believing that corruption does pay.
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