The genius of David Letterman

Letterman Show on Broadway

I’ve been a David Letterman fan since I first saw his shows in the late 1980s. I loved the irreverent send-ups, self deprecating humour, the sharp quick wit. It was New Yorker wise cracking, stand up delivered with a huge smile. It was fresh. David was having as much fun as everyone else.

In January 2010, I had a week in New York at a tech conference, and one of the things I had on my list apart from the Empire State, State of Liberty and pastrami on rye was a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman, filmed at the iconic Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway, just a few blocks up from Time Square. So a few hours after touching down and making it to my hotel, I went to walk off some of the jetlag and found my self outside the theatre, and noticed people walking inside (it was a dark wintry Sunday evening, so I was amazed to see the doors open). There were people with clipboards ushering people in, so I walked in and was quickly told that if I wanted to see a taping, there would be two shows tomorrow, one at 2pm and another at 4pm. They asked me a couple of easy questions about the show, and said they’d leave a message at my hotel if I was on the list. By the time I got back to the hotel, a message was there. ‘Turn up tomorrow at 1pm’, which I did. Again, they asked me some questions about the show, and seeing I was a bit keen, told me to go to queue A inside the theatre. There were about 30 others there, and once there were about 50, we were told we had been chosen as we “looked nice” and were “big fans” so were going to be in the front rows. About 30 minutes of what I can only describe as “whipping us up into a frenzy” ensued where we were told to laugh and applaud at everything David says, but no calling out or taking photos.

Ed Sullivan theatre

Into the theatre we went and down to the front seats, I was in the second row left by the aisle. The set was as you’d expect, with people milling about, and then a local warm up comedian came on to get us all in the spirit of things, then they played us the famous 1996 Taco Bell bit, and finally the band came on, and played 3 or 4 songs. By this stage the whole theatre was full and clapping along, and finally, about 2 minutes before filming, out walked Dave himself, took one quick question, and as the theme music was started (all music and effects were played live) he ran off and we were into it.

As it was, the show went for 60 minutes as if in real time. During the ad breaks Dave would wander off to the side to talk through something with the producer. It all flowed like clockwork, perfect every time, first time. Well, the gang had done the show over 5000 times up to that point (and over 6000 times in all after Dave retired the show this week). There was Paul Shaffer leading the band, which included Tom “Bones” Malone (of Blues Brother’s fame). At the time Letterman rival Jay Leno had left the Today Show about 6 months earlier and Conan O’Brien (who’d started his career as a writer on Letterman’s Late Show) had taken over, but Conan had been sacked that day, and Leno was set to return. Dave (who everyone had expected to get the Today Show from Johnny Carson back in 1993) nonchalantly walked out to begin his monologue with “Agh well, looks like I didn’t get the Today Show again!”, with a pretend annoyance that turned into his signature beaming tooth-gap smile. It was an incredible experience and an amazing start to my week in New York.

Letterman’s late night show ran for 32 years (he’d had a morning show before that for a few years before switching to late night) and after Leno was given the Today Show, he regularly beat Leno in the ratings for years. While Leno was all smarmy establishment and slick one liners, Letterman was the edgy risk-taker. You were either a Leno person or Letterman. I was Letterman. Leno finally retired (again) a few years later, and Letterman, having gone past his good mate Carson’s 31 year record a couple of years ago, and aged 68 decided this was the moment to go. Everyone else in late night was in their 30s and using hash tags. His first guest on Late Night Bill Murray was there on his last show, as were all living Presidents, Foo Fighters and a cavalcade of stars who had guested many times for one last Top Ten list. Dave had survived major heart surgery (his Dad died of a heart attack in his 50s), blackmail, a stalker and 4 decades in the industry. There was not much more to do, except spend time with his wife and Harry his son. In the end, as he said farewell, “family is the most important thing.”

Letterman mugI sit and look at my Late Show mug on my desk every day, and smile. Thanks Dave. You’re a legend. 12 Emmys (more than any other chat show host), 53 nominations (more than anyone), producer of prime time shows, a real entrepreneur and raconteur, paid $20 million a year to entertain us (his $14m starting salary at CBS was 3 times that of Leno).

I reckon Dave had the last laugh.

Happy retirement.

P.S. Last Weds, Conan O’Brien, in an act of selfless admiration, even implored his own audience to turn over and watch Dave’s last show “You have to watch Dave; we will never see his like again.”


Advice for entering business awards

Business Awards ceremonies

When I ran my own business I found that one of the best ways to get a free kick with media is to win business awards.

When our business was a fragile 6 month old we won the ‘Best E-Commerce Innovation‘ award. We were up against some big players, and we were amazed. It gave us a massive morale boost, and it got us through some tough months. It also led to a lot of free press, and from then on we could refer to ourselves as ‘award-winning’. After that first win, we would enter about 2 or 3 a year, and make sure we picked wisely (the entry process can take up quite a bit of time) so that we had a good chance of being a finalist, if not an outright winner. I am proud to say we won at least one major award every year from then on.

The proliferation of awards programs may have devalued some of them these days, but there are still valuable ones out there. You can choose from industry specific ones organised by your peak body (such as REIWA Sales Awards for real estate agents, or WAITTA Awards for techies) or overall business awards such as Telstra Small Business Awards or Business News’ Rising Stars, or individual awards such as the 40under40 Awards or EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year. All of these (and others) hold prestige.

I’ve entered many awards, but these days I tend to be on the judges’ side of the table, and have just finished a round of judging on a local business awards program. The advice I give below is not to be construed as specific for any such award, but when entering awards, please do bear in mind some of the following…

1. RTQ, ATQ!

When I was a school teacher, I used to drill this into my students

RTQ = Read the Question     ATQ = Answer the Question

It is soul destroying to read submissions that veer off the point, and do not stick to the judging criteria. A very good business may not do itself justice if it does not hit the points the judges are looking for (when they may have them in spades, but did not commit them to paper). I’m sure your product and people are lovely, but if the question concerned is all about your online marketing strategy, why are you wasting precious words talking about other stuff?

Read the questions and criteria very carefully, make sure you give the judges the ammunition they are looking for. Judges are looking for the good stuff, make it easy for them. Don’t leave questions out – you get zero points for a nothing answer. Answer every question as well as you can.

2. Easy to Read/Follow

Lay out your answer clearly. Use space. Photos are a good way to space things out, breaking up the words. Write in clear sentences. Make sure at least two other people proof read it, and be critical. What you leave out is as important as what you put in, but make sure what you put in matters, and is easy to follow. Some businesses get PR companies to write up the final copy – this is not a bad idea. It can look fantastic on the eye, and it does make it easier for judges. But you can do it yourself, just don’t make it look too home made. Make it look grown up, professionally laid out.

Increasingly, submissions are now done online, and you have to stick to the word limit on each question. Type out your answers in documents first, spell check, and proof BEFORE copying and pasting your submission.

3. Use evidence

Use examples to back up your points. There’s nothing like independent evidence, what others have said about you, testimonials, other awards you have won, perhaps even the number of Facebook fans or your Klout score.

4. Don’t use Jargon

You understand all the ins and outs of your industry, but the judges may not. Speak in plain English. Let your passion flood out. If you can use less words, use less words. As few as possible. Judges have lots to read, make sure your best points come out clearly, so they are not missed inside wads of text. Don’t waffle.

5. Take your time

Don’t leave it to the last minute. Be prepared, and plan out your answers early, weeks before the deadline. Don’t enter it at the last minute either, enter with days to spare. This will set you apart from the others as being well organised. Your reputation will travel.

6. Involve your staff

Invite relevant members of your staff to help you with the submission. Writing the piece actually makes you all look back collectively at what you’ve done, where you are going, and think about what you want to do. It’s a good process in itself. And take them along to the gala dinner where the winners are announced. Win or lose, it’s a team thing. Have fun on the night, and congratulate the winners if you are not among them.

7. Practice your pitch

If you get to the finalist stage and have to make a presentation to judges, then make sure this is extremely well rehearsed. Get other people to listen to your presentation. Make sure you have your slides on various versions so there are no nasty surprises with technology on the day (this can be a killer). Drink some water beforehand, take a deep breath and take it slow. You know your business, you’ve got the words, let it come out of you. Do not read a script, do not read bullet points, use your slides as a visual aid only. You (yourself) tell the story, you have to be believable. Look the judges in the eye. Believe.

8. Be Yourself

Be human. Include something humorous. Explain some of your mistakes, and what you learned from them. Talk about your biggest wins, where you took a risk, planned your action, and went for it. Explain why you’re in business. I doubt it’s “to make money”, there’s a deeper reason. There’s something you want to build, something you want to deliver, something you want to prove, something you want to fix or disrupt.

9. Enjoy it!

Awards should be fun. Make the submission sing, and enjoy the night. You never know, you might just walk away with a gong. And if not, no worries, come back next year, or choose another one. Get some feedback on your submission. Make it better next time.

And remember…

“One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards.” ― Oscar Wilde


Knowing when to stop loss

Better to do something than nothing

The stop loss‘ decision is one of the hardest to make, whether it’s in management, sport, or in life generally. When something is not going well, your early inkling can be put any nerves down to ‘post purchase’ fear, but as things continue to pan out not quite as planned, you look increasingly bad if you persist down the same path. People look to you for an answer, for a change, for hope.

In some cases, things improve, and the leader is then revered for their deftness of touch, and resolute manner, winning through in the end. Sometimes things take time.

In other cases, you’ve just made the wrong decision. Maybe it was OK at the time given the information, but as things go from bad to worse, it’s obvious to most that things need to change. It is time to stop loss, to prevent further bloodshed. Often the stop loss decision is put off, in the (sometimes false) hope that things do ‘turn around’. Usually leaders cannot admit to themselves or others that they got it wrong, so they persist with arguments that the original decision was correct. We see this in politics as much as in business.

Escalating commitment to a bad decision can make leaders dig their heels, and try to ride it out. They can make it sound like firm decision-making (“We are in this for the long haul“) and strong leadership (“You turn if you want to”), but continuation down the incorrect path, when the results show the direction is wrong, is pure pigheadedness.

The best leaders know when to pull the plug. And do so.

Take the decisions in recently months of the British Labour Party and the English Cricket Board (ECB). I would argue both organisations put off taking the hard decisions (the ‘stop loss’ decision) and left things until they are too late. Both have enjoyed great success in recent years and decades, only to plunge to new lows. This is the most galling, as you don’t have to look far back into either’s history to see how and why they became all-beaters in the first place. How could they forget so quickly?

It was only 3 years ago that the English cricket team was number one in the world in all 3 formats of the game. But this success was underpinned with a 10 year stint prior where they amassed a solid team of talented performers, that they backed. Results steadily grew, and with it confidence. Before too long the team was beating even the all powerful Australians (three series in a row in fact 2009-2013). How could they have mucked it up so badly since?

It was in the late 1990s and up to 2005 that Labour won three successive general elections (giving its party a commanding overall majority 1997-2010). It seems they too have both forgotten how they got there, the hard work that was done from the late 1980s onwards, and how to stay there.

If Labour thinks it was not ‘Labour enough’ to win power then they have completely forgotten the lessons of the 1980s and 1990s when they were a political joke. Lurching to the left after the Thatcher landslide of 1979 only made them unelectable for a generation, and a split into the Social Democratic party (which then merged to form the Liberal Democrats, who then formed a coalition government in 2010 as Labour lost… perhaps the ultimate ignominy?)

Tony Blair knew instinctively what needed to be done, and put in the hard work in the background during 1994-1997. He’d started earlier, and the first time I saw him, he made a strong impression. This guy was intelligent, determined, competitive. He rebranded, tossed out the screaming leftist policies and nutters, and took Labour to the centre, where every government needs to rule from. In electing Ed (not David) Miliband in 2010, Labour lurched away from Blair (who’d become distrusted post Iraq War) and the party has never looked electable since. Ed did not look or talk the part. Unless Labour elects a centrist leader who is articulate, strong and knows how to move the party to the middle, Labour will be out of power for another generation. They’ve lost Scotland, now they have to win the home counties of England. Wales, for now, and major English cities, are still theirs.

Personally, I’d get brother David Miliband (he’s not yet 50) back from New York. But they won’t do it. Sometimes the screaming obvious (like removing brother Ed 2 years ago) is the stop loss no one would countenance. They would prefer to lose an election than deal with their ineptitude.

Which brings us to the ECB.

It was clear early on that Paul Downton (Director) was not the right person for the job, nor was Peter Moores (Coach), yet we had to suffer a year of these two mismanaging things (sacking KP for one) and some deeply embarrassing results. Captain Cook could not score a run in the one day game for two years (it’s not his format!) and yet they left him there, getting worse, losing games and totally squandering the time that could have been used to develop a team for the world cup, only to sack him a few weeks before it started.

If they can persuade Justin Langer to leave Perth, then he’s my choice for England coach. He’s the sort of no nonsense, hard working leader English cricket needs. I hear everyone feels sorry for “nice guy” Cook. Sorry, I don’t want my cricket captains to be nice. I want them to the nastiest, vicious b***ards, who are going to get under the skin of the opposition, take no prisoners, but speak well at the end of game interview (that last bit is a ‘nice to have’).

It’s easy to manage when things are going well. But if they’re not, be decisive. It’s where you earn your money. If need be, stop loss. Because things can only get worse if you let them.


San Francisco, not SF, San Fran or Frisco

PRICELESS: While at Dropbox HQ I see a guy dropping off boxes

PRICELESS: While at Dropbox HQ I see a guy dropping off boxes

Don’t call San Francisco ‘San Fran’, ‘SF’ or ‘Frisco’ – the locals never refer to their city that way, you only look like a tourist. Which I was last week, on my second trip to the world’s tech capital, taking in SugarCON (SugarCRM’s annual conference) and a few other things along the way.

San Francisco (or “the city”) is a unique place, mixing quaint Victorian townhouse architecture with the pulsing modernity of an all encompassing tech boom and amazing views from its many road peaks and bayside vantage points. Jazz and piano bars adorn the central Union Square tourist traps, cable cars (only 3 lines remain) trundle noisily up and down passing roadside diners, which frequent every street corner. There’s a restaurant that puts garlic in everything (I mean everything, including ice cream), the school where Joe DiMaggio grew up (and the church where he posed for wedding pictures with Marilyn) and the country’s first topless bar (which is still open, and no, I did not go inside).


Walk south of Market Street (‘SOMA’) and you pass by the offices for Yahoo! (ironically placed right next door to the San Francisco Chronicle), Eventbrite, Klout, Weebly, Wikipedia, Zendesk, Yelp, FitBit and DropBox. The flood of tech people head to the city, chasing limitless streams of VC money that has put upward pressure on rents and house prices, making it an expensive place to live. As in Perth, people are being forced further and further afield, and the commutes are getting longer.


The place is cool, in more senses than one. The sweeping mists and fogs roll in across the Golden Gate bridge, bringing plunging temperatures to the city, while surrounding areas stay warmer. The winds that whip through the up and down streets are chilling, but walking around you feel the place is cool (in the trendy sense) and you don’t get badly hassled by street panhandlers as you always are in New York. Yes, around Union Square there’s someone on every street corner asking for money, but they do it in such a charming, friendly manner. They wish you well, no matter if you drop a dollar in their tin or not. Some openly tell you they need it “for weed”, with a cheeky grin.


Speaking of cannabis, I was there (coincidentally I hasten to add) in the Haight-Ashbury (hippy) district on the 19th April, which is the eve of ‘420‘ – the day synonymous with everything and everyone that worships marijuana. They had come in droves from far and wide, and were already camping out in Golden Gate park. All drab colours, ear piercings, distant faces, glazed smiles and large black dogs.

crabDown at Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll taste the finest clam chowder on the planet, along with the sweetest crabs. As one nearby sign simply read (how I loved it’s simple ‘call to action’ message): EAT CRAB. The views out to Alcatraz straight ahead and the Golden Gate bridge to the left have to be some of the finest anywhere. The seagulls are also the largest I’ve ever seen, at least twice the size – I gave them a wide berth.

Overall, you feel this place can do anything. It screams innovation, while also tipping a nod to its own history. You understand why people beat a path to its door, and why innovators in cities across the US and the globe are seemingly envious of the attraction San Francisco has for the next Facebook, Instagram or Google. It’s well worth a visit.




Looking back, it seems odd that an Aussie would be anchoring live cricket on TV in England from the 1960s onwards. 50 years and 500 test matches in all. Could the old dart not find a homegrown talent to front the game? (I doubt it would happen in any other sport.) Richie Benaud’s professionalism seemed to personify the coverage way back before T20, pajama cricket and IPL took over. These days, it’s all superlatives, laddish laughter and mass exaggeration. You have keep the ratings up, so whatever game you are ‘calling’, it has to be incredible, brilliant and tragic all at the same time. Not for Richie. Richie’s tone was measured, informed and educational. His golden rule – ‘don’t talk unless you can add to the pictures.

Perhaps only John Arlott was in his class, although John was a radio man, all rasping poetry laced with red wine (“the field is spreading like missionaries”). Richie was a TV man, pressed jackets and perfectly groomed hair (which in itself was a piece of work, in the Donald Trump vein of carefully crimped ear comb over). My Dad would call him ‘frog face’ (mainly to wind up my Mum, who adored him), and my Mum would reply ‘Oh he’s lovely’. My wife thought he looked a bit like a Chinese Auntie.

But we could all listen to Richie all day. From his crisp welcome (‘Morning everyone‘) to his well chosen phrases (‘he’s hit that into the confectionery stand and out again‘) and signature ‘Marrrrvelous‘. The sideways glance (was his deaf in one ear?), the curled bottom lip (did the top one ever move?) Richie was the first to eschew convention and look directly into the camera when answering a question made by a fellow commentator (he never forget the audience at home mattered the most). He was a pro from head to toe, unruffled, and could fill 6 minutes or 6 hours keeping the viewers engaged and educated. He knew when the detailed exposition of the LBW law was required, and when it was not. He knew when words were needed and were not. Often, they were not. He was the master of the pause. The well timed punchline.

After 1985 Ashes series, the British commentators were up in the open air toasting the English victory. Richie was there as the only Aussie. As the English buffoons gloated, Richie sipped his champagne. ‘How does it taste Richie?’ asked an English colleague. ‘Of Ashes’ replied Richie. After that Australia would win series after series for almost 20 years, and never once would Richie become partisan. His commentary was always straight down the middle. No one seems capable of doing that these days.

I never got to meet him, but I did once see him in person. In the mid 80s he and his wife Daphne were on holiday in Italy. I was there too, at the end of a long summer. I did a second take as I spotted the great man queuing (like me) at a museum or somewhere. He looked back at me and half smiled. I did not want to interrupt the great man, and his lady wife, while on holiday, and he half nodded perhaps in recognition of the fact. I doubt many in Italy would have recognised them, perhaps that is why they were there.

I doubt the world will see his like again, and for that, the world is a little poorer.

Richie’s last appearance – for Aussie Day lamb… a classic

Richie Benaud highlights


Trad media got prosh


Last week the PROSH students were out and about in their fancy dress, collecting money for charity ($150,000 all told) and distributing their newspapers at almost every intersection into and out of the city.

Every year this gives me flash backs to the time I first noticed PROSH, Easter 2000, and the accompanying tech wreck that had happened the day before. I was on a bus going to my dotcom company, and the dotcom bubble had well and truly burst that week. I had shareholders on my tail, a rapidly declining company bank balance, and I wondered if the business would survive the next few months.

As I reached for a regular newspaper that day, I read all about the doom and gloom of the global stock markets. Most commentators seemed to be revelling in the destruction all around them. “No more stupid ibusiness this and ebusiness that,” they crowed, “we’ve seen the last of these ridiculous companies with silly names and even sillier business models. Let’s get back to reality, and real business.” In the weekend papers that week, some real estate agent poured scorn on dotcoms, advertising properties that rise in value, unlike shares.

Ho hum.

Well, we made it through that time, as did many others. Still others were to form a few years later and sweep all before them. No doubt many of the late 90s’ dotcoms had no realistic business model and were doomed at the start (just like most businesses in fact). But the shift to the internet economy was only just getting going, and 15 years on, we still have ebusinesses and ibusinesses with silly names (Apple, iTunes, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Uber…), and many have multi-billion valuations. Most of these businesses had not been born in 2000, or even 2005. Today, most have piles and piles of cash and are amassing fortunes the size of a mid-sized country’s GDP.

As I read those papers back in Easter 2000, I was infuriated by the hubris and arrogance of the traditional media. In many ways, I still am. Ever year, I watch the PROSH students in their crazy costumes, and I smile to myself (not just due to their silliness). Great change happens slowly, so slowly that you can ignore it for years, putting your head in the sand and carrying on as before. The true visionaries jump on the trend and build the future. The sad Luddites throw spanners in the works and decry and rail against progress.

In which camp are you?


Why walking is the right thing to do

Interestingly, one of the most famous 'walkers' was Adam Gilchrist, the Aussie keeper-batsman (he even called his memoirs 'Walking to Victory')

WALKER: One of the most famous ‘walkers’ was Adam Gilchrist, the Aussie keeper-batsman (he even called his memoirs ‘Walking to Victory’)

It’s not the cheating that got me, it was the feeling I had got away with it.” I’m not sure what movie that’s from (do please tell), but when I heard it I understood the meaning. The guilt, the knowledge that your victory had been sullied, that you had not played fair was all consuming.

I know many of my posts are about cricket, but it’s the world cup final tomorrow, and as the season draws to a close (mine as cricket coach, backyard player and avid watcher), I get to thinking about the old game and it’s life parallels.

For those who do not know all the ins and outs of the game, over the centuries cricket developed it’s own ‘spirit‘, as embodied by the great Sir Don Bradman (Aussie, best player ever) who had this to say on cricketers’ virtues:

“When considering the stature of an athlete or for that matter any person, I set great store in certain qualities which I believe to be essential in addition to skill. They are that the person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, courage, and perhaps most of all, with modesty. These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition, and competitiveness. “

He also said:

‘It is the responsibility of all those that play the game (the custodians) to leave the game in a better state than when they first became involved’.

Bradman was by all accounts a genius, extremely argumentative and loved nothing more than “grinding the English into the dust”. He was not the most likable chap, he was very competitive. He ended up with a test batting average of almost 100, way above all over players (the next best are in the low 60s; a ‘great’ batsman is considered such if their average tops 50.) But to him conduct, integrity and leaving the game ‘in a better state’ was the most important thing.

I have played cricket in England, Singapore and Australia, and one thing that sets your average weekend English social cricketer apart from their Aussie counterpart is the issue of ‘walking‘.

Imagine you’ve just nicked the ball off your bat’s edge (you’ve heard it, everyone has) and it goes through to be caught by the keeper. Most Englishmen will walk, knowing they are out, just as if their stumps had been knocked over or if the ball had been cleanly caught by an outfielder. It’s clearly out. Why hang around like a goose? You just look stupid. To wait around and hope the umpire might somehow miss the edge (knowing you’re out) is tantamount to cheating. In fact, it is cheating. In the rules, you’re out, fair and square. Walk off.

To an Aussie though, this last paragraph is pure heresy. “Umpire’s got a job to do mate,” they say, “they make mistakes, so do we as players, often I’ve been given out when I wasn’t so I’m not moving if I know I’m out; I’m waiting for the umpire to give me out.”

OK, I get the logic, but you wouldn’t wait around if you were clean bowled, run out by a mile, played on, or had been caught out by an outfielder, or even a slip or gully would you … so what’s the difference between a clear nick to the keeper, that you know is out?

The difference is that you’re trying to get away it. You’re trying to cheat. By the rules you are out, but you are hoping to stay. You felt the ball snick the edge of your bat (believe me, batsmen know 99% of the time). So go. Umpires usually give the batsman the benefit of the doubt anyway, and it’s this that the non-walker is preying (praying!) on. It’s out and out cheating.

If the situation was reversed, and you heard the nick, you’d be giving the batsman all sorts of abuse if they stayed around. So you’re being two-faced as well.

The same goes for appealing for catches, run outs or LBWs that you know are not out, in the hope the umpire might get it wrong.

If you walk every time, you are not going to be given out as much by umpires (after all, when you nick it, you walk). I walked, and I can’t remember ever being given out incorrectly for a nick behind. A few dodgy LBWs perhaps (edged into the pads) but then again how many were given not out when they may have been? No one walks on LBWs, but on everything else bar a mighty close run out when you’re not sure as you’re diving your ground, get out of there.

I also quite liked the abrupt turn and move off the pitch, as if to say “Yep, good ball, I got that wrong, I’m out of here”. I played hard, I played fair. (I could get annoyed with myself in the sanctity of the changing rooms, but I would be dignified in my public exit!)

Afterwards, you know you’ve done the right thing. You’ve set the right example. To yourself, the team, opposition, spectators and your children. Winning fairly is a great feeling, when you’ve played well. Winning on a cheat is not winning. Losing on a cheat is utterly galling, but never lower yourself to those standards.

What’s true in sport is the same in business, love and life generally.

I’m as competitive as the next bloke, but I see ‘not walking’ as clear cheating. Always have, always will. I lose respect for anyone who does not walk (they look ridiculous when DRS proves them wrong), and I think less of them. I’m a walker, are you ..?


Lessons from history – part two (the conclusion)

Rainy Singapore

In my previous post I related the story of my history teacher Peter Sibley, who we suspected was not exactly reading every (any?) word of our essays, over 30 years ago.

15 years pass. I am now a teacher myself, in far flung Singapore, and have helped organise a cricket tour back in the old country, including a game against the MCC (no, not them, but the Monkton Combe Cavaliers), a team of teachers and friends, played at my old school pitch. Picture the scene – a tricking stream running past a thatched pavilion, proud chestnut trees waving in the breeze, a viaduct tramping across the valley, and (typical for England) the threat of rain. We batted first, were in trouble, and somehow managed a half decent score. Which was immaterial as the threatened rain duly arrived and we repaired to the nearest pub.

Over a few pints, Peter then asked me if I might make contact with a visiting hockey tour he was organising for a nearby school. ‘They’re a bit high maintenance,’ he said, ‘but if you could maybe meet them or say ‘Hi’ it will allay their fears. Everything – hotels, games, flights, transport, meals… – is organised, so there’s nothing to do.’ Sure, I’d be happy to, I said.

And so it was a few weeks later, back in the tropics, I got a call from one of their teachers, and said I would be happy to meet them for a drink in a local pub to see how they were travelling. ‘Oh, you’re just an ex teacher of Pete’s then?’ they said, ‘we thought you were his ‘man on the ground’, a member of his staff over here …’.

‘Err, not exactly’ I said, ‘but if I can help in any way, do let me know.’

‘Well, there is something you can help us with – we have to get from our hotel to the railway station on Saturday evening because we are taking the night train up to Malaysia for our game on Sunday afternoon.’

‘I can arrange that, I’ll get permission for our school bus company to drop you guys off,’ I said. By amazing coincidence, our deputy head had taught with one of their teachers many years ago, so he was happy to oblige.

That Saturday evening, I am sitting down for a drink on the balcony with my parents, who are out for a visit, watching the evening tropical downpur. I receive an agitated call from the school’s teacher, ‘The bus never arrived! So we have now missed our train, and now have nowhere to stay the night. We’re stuck! Peter Sibley better pull something out of his hat right now, or there will be hell to pay.’

Hardly Peter’s fault I thought; what on earth had happened? I rang the bus company. No reply. I had to get the team into a hotel somehow (not easy on a rainy Saturday night in Singapore, when you are talking about 30 staff and students). On about the 12th attempt I find somewhere that will take them; they pile into taxis and get the train in the next morning. I contact the place they are going to saying they will be half a day later than planned. I find out our bus company had got the timing wrong, had turned up at 8am in the morning, not the evening as it should have been, found no hockey team and thought they were not needed. Huge apologies all round on Monday when I went into school.

Karma for Mr Sibley not reading my essays? You be the judge.


Lessons from history – part one

the same old marking

When I was training to be a teacher back in the mid 80s, I remember marking my first set of (Economics) essays. I was excited to see what my first batch of students had written – had they understood the concepts, could they apply it, what original ideas could they come up with..? Sadly, I was to be less than overwhelmed (underwhelmed?). As time went on, I found marking a drudgery, something that went with the job, about as interesting as invigilating an exam (which, believe me, is mindbogglingly tedious). No doubt this was all my fault.

Over time I developed a system of speed reading scripts, and when I analysed my marking comparing grades given when I read every word, deliberated long about the marks, to when I sped read, there was no difference. After a few years, I was speed reading, maybe going back and picking apart more intricate and interesting paragraphs, but I found the human brain could actually read very fast, keep alert and do a better job than when you painstakingly went over things line by line, word by word and became distracted. Get through it fast, in one sitting, and keep the standard consistent. In the end, that is the job of marking. I suspect most seasoned teachers and academics do likewise. There are just not enough hours in the day otherwise. You have all this prep to do, and a million other admin tasks.

And so I arrive at the story of my former History teacher, Peter Sibley. A legend in his own time, he had played a good standard of rugby in England (captaining the Bath team in the 1960s: “Peter Sibley was the first to develop the ethos for fast, attacking rugby – an ethos that still lives on in today’s team.” says the Bath Rugby club website). He was also the school 1st XI cricket coach, international sports tour guy and Housemaster. Back in the late 70s, he was probably in his early 40s, wore a cool leather jacket, had a nice manner about him, and turned up to every lesson about 5 minutes late. He was entertaining, things were not too high pressure and everyone enjoyed his classes. I saw him lose his cool only once, after a boarder went around smashing various windows in a fit of what must have been post punk teenage rage. Peter took the lad by the scruff of the neck, his own face turning a brilliant shade of purple as he marched the boy off to the Headmaster’s office.

Around this time, we students suspected Mr Sibley was not exactly reading every word of our essays. The clue was in the fact that as we compared each other’s scripts, every one of us had a neat little red tick on the bottom of each page, with no comments made whatsoever throughout the pieces of work. At the end was a simple comment and a mark. We got to wondering if our history teacher was actually reading the work at all. One of us braver types decided to test the theory. He would put in inappropriate words in the middle of the odd paragraph. We waited with baited breath as to the outcome. Would these be spotted, crossed out, and the poor student made a fool of in next history class?

Nope. A simple red tick at the bottom of each page and a plain mark at the end resulted, as always. OK, maybe he just missed that occasional word, we surmised? Let’s put in some things that are plainly obvious to anyone (who is at least scanning the work). They were not picked up either. Eventually, we started putting in whole paragraphs such as “you’re not really reading this are you sir” and “old man Sibley is asleep” and other entirely non historical elements to our essays. Nothing was spotted.

And so, we lost our faith in the academic validity of our history scores. But we did not turn him in, or complain (as perhaps the modern competitive parent may have done). It did not put us off, we worked away and all got good grades, and we turned out OK. I look back on this and smile, but when I became a teacher about 10 years later, I made sure I read every paragraph (if not every word), and although I may have sped read (and still do, to this day), I do look out for the odd silly phrase, lest someone is trying one on. Working at a media business now, I can proof read with the best of them and spot a careless error at 10 paces.

For now, this little history lesson ends here. However, in a follow up post, I will tell you what happened 15 years later when I ended up helping out Mr Sibley with a hockey tour to Singapore, which may provide karma to the above.


Willing on the minnows

Like many, I have been willing on the ‘minnows’ in the current World Cup of cricket.
Of the 14 nations participating, 8 have full test playing status and so half the initial pool games involve an ‘Associations’ nation playing against their ilk or a much better resourced and experienced full time professional team. Already we’ve seen Ireland beat the West Indies (who seem to blow hot and cold almost at will). Afghanistan played a close game against Sri Lanka. My bet is England will be downed by either Bangladesh or Afghanistan, having lost all their 3 games so far to test playing nations.
18 years ago, I played for the Singapore team in the ICC Trophy 1997. Back then, the Association playing nations were all grouped together in their own competition (with Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Canada, USA, etc…) with the top 2 teams then gaining a berth to the 1999 World Cup in England.
I was but a very average league cricketer, and only sneaked into the team by virtue of an ICC ruling – players had to be either born nationals or residents of 5+ years standing. (Allegedly, in a previous competition, UAE had stacked their team with former Pakistan test players, having given them PR status only weeks before.) Not many cricketers in Singapore had been there 5 years or more.
We were all amateurs (in the truest sense of the word) and in game 2, we were up against a well trained, athletic Kenyan team who had beaten West Indies the year before, were to be runners up in this tournament and go on to play in that 1999 World Cup in England.

We batted first, and I was in at number 3 in the first over. Somehow I clung on and made a very ugly 13 in an hour (I did not know it at the time but my bat was breaking – in the next but one game against Ireland it completely snapped), and we were bowled out for a hopeless 89. Our opening bowlers then tore into the top order and at one stage we had them 52 for 7, only for them to crawl over the line with 2 wickets left. Almost an upset.

We even made it onto the sports broadcast of that night’s BBC World Service sports roundup. What might have been.  2 years later I’m watching Alec Stewart smash Kenyan opener Martin Suji all over Taunton, making him look like a medium pace trundler. To me he was searing pace and could make it move late almost at will.

The gulf between professional sport and amateur is a chasm, but for a moment we glimpsed into the light… go the minnows!