Andy Warhol, and my 15 minutes of fame - May 2014

Andy Warhol circa 1968

In the programme notes for an exhibition of his work in 1968, Andy Warhol made one of his trademark throwaway statements that nearly fifty years later still resonates (with me at any rate) - "in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes".

I have always liked this idea, but never really thought it would happen to me.

But guess what, last week I had my moment of fame - and lasting a full 15 minutes nogal.

Admittedly, it wasn't full throttle celebrity fame like being movie star, or a great singer. That's proper fame. To digress - if 15 minutes of real fame were on offer, I'd settle for being famous like Robbie Williams for the five minutes at the 2005 Brit Awards when Joss Stone joined Robbie on stage as he sang 'Angels'. Check out the following clip- it's great, but please come back. You've starting reading this and might as well finish. Angels - Joss Stone & Robbie Williams.

Just look how Joss Stone comes on stage - Joss, an angel incarnate with a voice that would raise the dead - sashays towards rock-God Robbie - and adoringly joins in his anthem. Robbie even thoughtfully helps her out with the words, before Joss throws her arms around him and the frenzied crowd roars approval. It could be me dear Lord, I'm even the same height as Robbie.

OK so now you've seen what real fame looks like. I have to admit that my fifteen minutes of fame didn't feel quite as mind-blowingly awesome. Actually, my 15 minutes of fame wasn't even on a par with being a management consultant like Professor Michael Porter, and being a luminary of Harvard Business School, and having a strategic business model named after you:

Fame like this means that business leaders the world over look to you as an icon, and pay you fortunes for speaking to them. (I've just realised something - check the likeness between Andy Warhol and Professor Porter…)

Truth be told, my 15 minutes of fame wasn't even management consultancy type fame like being Clem Sunter, where you get to be inside the mind of a fox, and more importantly, get people to pay to join you in fox play.

Fox you! I hear you say - "you're just envious". Of course I am. I'd love to be a famous management consultant like Professor Porter and Clem Sunter. Clearly, their fame has something to do with the fact that they are original, intelligent and talented. But I have my own theory. I put it to you that being famous on an inter-galactic level in the management consultancy business entails looking (a bit) like Andy Warhol - check the pics - even Clem has got a bit of a Warhol look going.

Rather, when my 15 minutes of fame arrived upon me, it wasn't quite as heady as speaking to a hall full of Fortune 500 Executives hanging on my every word. Not looking remotely like Andy Warhol as we have discovered, is almost an epic fail in management consultancy terms. Fortunately, when fame came knocking, it arrived in the form of my very own radio interview, for which it transpires I have the perfect look - on none other than Ballz radio! Impressed?

I admit the station name lacks gravitas. But Ballz does have some very cool presenters - guys from Jacaranda like Darren Scott and Sasha Martinengo. And more to the point, I got to speak for 15 minutes about business plans!

So there we have it - my fifteen minutes of fame. I even had two delightful lady interviewers hang on my every word - well maybe not hang on my every word - more wait patiently until I finished.

And if you would like to hang on my every word, or just like to hear me talk Ballz about business plans - you too can check it out. Ballz even spelt my name wrong - but hey, us famous types can bear such minor indignities:

Valentines' Day

Charlie Parker from Charlie Parker Bird/The Original Savoy Recordings (1944)

"Romance without finance is a nuisance Baby, you know I need me some gold Romance without finance just don't make sense Mama, mama, please give up that gold"

So what has Charlie 'Yardbird' Parker got to do with Business and Management Consulting? Because he was asking for money – without a hope of getting it. Much like many entrepreneurs and their business plans seeking funding from banks, private equity, the IDC, DTI, friends and family – you name it. Asking for money, but with little hope of getting it!

I can't tell you why Charlie Parker stayed poor – but I can tell you why many entrepreneurs, business owners and managers come short when they approach lenders looking for finance.

Apart from all the usual stuff that entrepreneurs are so prone to fill plans with – vision, mission, blah blah; the part that routinely really gets the most cursory 'pro-forma' treatment is the 'Financials'; i.e. nothing less than the heart and soul of the business!

And when I say cursory treatment, I mean that entrepreneurs often get their accountant/business/management consultant to create a set of pro-forma financial forecasts – without really interrogating (and at times even properly understanding) what is going in to these financials. Meaning that the heart and soul of the business has been effectively outsourced! Or only marginally better, the entrepreneur populates a template, – "to get that part of the document done". Either way a huge opportunity is being missed.

The alternative is to approach 'The Financials' as if they are the proverbial pot at the end of the rainbow – because they are.

The 'real business' planning approach to forecasting the financials

To my mind, the financial forecasts contained in the business plan, contain all the blood sweat and tears that go into creating a new business; or expanding an existing one. As you know, the forecast financials (the projected income statement, balance sheet and cash-flow statements) are populated with line items showing where the money is coming from – or how it is being spent.

Rather than regard the development of these essential forecasting documents as a chore, each and every item which populates the income statement and balance sheet offers an opportunity to stress test and interrogate a particular aspect of the business. In effect, each line item offers the basis for a 'strategic discussion'.

For example, I've just been asked to assist with an internet start-up which is dependent on the sale of banner advertising and specific apps which the client in turn loads on to their websites. The numbers of users look impressive, as do the sale of the apps. My question: what are the projected sales based on? What market research has been done? What competitive offerings exist, and what are their prices/advantages/disadvantages?

In other words, I urge entrepreneurs, business owners and managers, to treat each line item in the pro-forma financials, as if they were the agenda for a strategic workshop. Meaning that nothing gets added as a so called income statement or balance sheet 'line-item' without being discussed, argued over, stress-tested, and generally interrogated to within an inch of its life!

In contrast to the usual j-curve trajectory of most business plans – which have more in common with the sketch below, than anything reassembling the prospects of the business.

By following this 'strategic' approach, the pro-forma financial forecasts will undoubtedly take a lot (I mean a lot) longer than the cursory and frequently misleading projections which grace a lot of so called 'business plans'; and instead, can become the strategic powerhouse of the business plan.

Which brings this missive to end with another musical reference – although hopefully not on a sour note (if you can forgive the pun).

You may not know or even like their music – but there's a serious point. The band was originally formed in 1967 – and still going strong; and I can't help feeling there's something in the name.

Here's a promise. When you come to do your business plan, if there's any section you want to focus on and treat as the strategic core – please make it your financials. Invest your blood sweat and tears wisely here – rather than panel beating meaningless vision and mission statements – and you'll see dividends:

The likelihood of getting 'some gold' from funders will be exponentially increased –and far more importantly, your understanding of the project or venture you are undertaking will be of a different order.

Take it away Bird…

November 2012

One of the joys of working as a management consultant is the people you meet. A couple of weekends ago I held a workshop for a youthful management team – the focus being communication. It was an eye opener! Consider this.

Each member of the team is a highly intelligent, motivated, and articulate individual. Yet from my previous interactions, I’d noticed that the team had lost the habit of properly talking to one another. So what?

Well it was damaging the business for a start.

How so? Well, how about management meetings where the same voices are heard. Meaning that the same voices are also not heard – yet all equally intelligent and committed? A formula for running a business at half-speed if ever there was one!

Everyone knows how youngsters communicate these days…

But look what's happening in the workplace:

Set this against office life of the 60’s. There has to be a reason why MadMen, the US award winning sitcom about work/life at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency is so, well, award-winning.

For a start there’s something missing in Dan Draper’s world. There are no computers on desks, emails to check, or headphones to block out people. Instead there’s a palpable sense of something very human; an electric undertow of chatter, small talk, intrigue, power, gossip, and yes - sex.

It’s what used to be called the ‘office buzz’. And that’s what was missing these days.

But where’s the relevance to business?

Well, the office ‘buzz’ was/is fundamentally about communication. And the word ‘buzz’ is no accident - redolent as it is of a productive bee hive; perfectly coordinated, each member working in sync, with a perfect and intuitive understanding of their role. It means that individuals know what’s going on, and are part of it. And guess what; it’s good for business.

But don’t take my word for it.

“With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed that communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions— combined.”

- Harvard Business Review April 2012: The New Science of Building Great Teams by Alex “Sandy” Pentland

No shortage of buzz in this office:

As a result of lessons drawn from the Harvard Business Review and the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency, here are a few of the steps that my team have now taken:

  • Headphones off
  • No more emailing when face to face talking/phoning will do the trick
  • And making sure that everyone i.e. the more reserved individuals (particularly in important management meetings) – gets the same airtime! This is CRUCIAL!

The jury is still out. But the feedback so far is positive. And the company is heading for a record month. Can’t be doing any harm. If you’d like to discuss communication – you know what to do. Pick up the phone!

Meanwhile, here’s a date night without texting. You choose.