Word Crimes

For those of you frustrated by terrible use of English, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s latest parody ‘Word Crimes‘ is  a delight. Set to the music of last year’s infectious hit ‘Blurred Lines‘, he rips into the abbreviated, sloppy expression too often spouted on social media, emails or texts.

Released 4 days ago, it’s already had 7 million views on Youtube. Brilliantly clever, among other things he lampoons those who use “literally” in totally the wrong manner, those that can’t distinguish between “it’s” and “its” and that “to who” is always wrong.

Literally is often abused
One thing I ask of you

Time to learn your homophones is past due
Learn to diagram a sentence too
Always say “to whom”
Don’t ever say “to who”
And listen up when I tell you this
I hope you never use quotation marks for emphasis
You finished second grade
I hope you can tell
If you’re ‘doing good’ or ‘doing well’
Better figure out the difference
Irony is not coincidence!
And I thought that you’d gotten it through your skull
What’s figurative and what’s literal
Oh but, just now, you said
You literally couldn’t get out of bed
That really makes me want to literally
Smack a crowbar upside your stupid head

Has anyone ever written a song about nomenclature, apostrophe or syntax?

It should be obligatory viewing for all. Sadly, however, those it was intended for will not get the joke, but the rest of us can have a chuckle.

He does raise a point – all of us probably are seeing standards dropping. We see 20-somethings come into the workplace who cannot spell or understand basic grammar. Our own handwriting is worsening. We just write less and less. Our writing (as I am doing now) is on a keyboard, or by tapping on (or swiping across) a  screen. If the communication gets across anyway, and spelling evolves over generations, does this matter?

I would like to think that the use of correct English is important – in business, communication, expression… and something to protect.


Good to Great is still great

a Hedgehog knows just how to do one thing (well)

A few years after completing my MBA and two years after starting my own business, one of my Business School professors brought me Jim Collins’ 2001 book, ‘Good to Great‘. It’s rare a business text has me hanging on its every word, but this one surely did, and still does a dozen or so years later. I go back to it regularly to ‘sanity check’ my own business management. It always highlights something I’m not doing and puts me back on the right road.

If you’ve not come across it yet, I earnestly implore you to give it a read. The quick premise is: there are loads of ‘OK to good’ businesses, products, performance & staff – but what sets apart the GREAT businesses with GREAT performance? Collins went right back through the history books to find companies that achieved truly outstanding performances, well above the market, and compared them to similar companies who’d had the same opportunities to be great in the same market at the same time, but somehow didn’t do it.

Collins found that each of the ‘Great’ companies did the exact same things in the exact same order. Here they are:

  • The GREAT companies all had “Level 5 leaders” ~ a work horse, not a show pony; they lead by example; they would never ask staff to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves.
  • They were humble but purposeful – they blamed errors on themselves, and celebrated wins on everyone else doing things right (‘The Mirror and the Window’)…how many managers do you know that do the direct opposite?


  • Hire only the best ~ make no compromises if unsure; if you don’t think they’re right, don’t hire; if they are not working out, get rid of them fast
  • Happy productivity ~ happy staff doing good work, achieving results… means motivated staff, means better content/products means happy clients, mean profits made & happy shareholders
  • get the “right people on the bus, in right seats; wrong people off the bus”
  • staff are the ONLY competitive difference these days


  • Collins talks about the ‘Stockdale Paradox‘, a terrific story of a General imprisoned in the Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War; he found that those that did not make it were the eternal optimists (‘we’ll be out by Christmas…’). Those that did make it out had faith they’d prevail in the end, but they absolutely had a handle on where they were right now and how to deal with it.
  • Brutal Facts; bring the bad news, do not brush this under the carpet; if things are smelling bad, deal with them


  • a hedgehog understands one thing it can be best at – it rolls up into a ball and protects itself from danger
  • The fox may be clever and have loads of cunning plans, but the hedgehog wins every time
  • What can you be #1 in your market(s) at? (If you can’t be #1 in the market, then stop doing it)


  • have big hairy audacious goal (many years out) ~ this drives on the business, and keep pressing towards it
  • measure the right things ~ fire bullets to calibrate, fire cannons to go big


  • tech is not as end in itself, but is used to accelerate growth (such as a new systems)
  • don’t get blindsided by technology for tech’s sake; go for the minimum viable product and get it it there and use it as you go


  • Another great analogy is the flywheel ~ imagine a huge one that takes all your effort to move one inch; as more of you come in and help, you get it moving and after a while it builds a momentum of its own
  • which push is the decisive one? None of them, argues Collins, but together it works
  • so keep doing those million little things well

This is but a humble overview of the main 7-stage model. If you don’t even do stage 1, none of the other 6 stages will make you great. You have to do all 7.

For more, get the book – you’ll not regret it. And don’t listen to Collins’ critiques (there are a few)… they probably found it too hard to do. For building a great business is no easy, one breakthrough matter. It can take years and years.

But it’s worth it.

Photo: LOLSnaps.com


The Night we dined with Dame Edna

{ Lisa and I with the Grand Dame, on stage, March 1999 }

{ Lisa and I with the Grand Dame, on stage, March 1999 }

Fifteen years ago, Lisa and I attended an unforgettable ‘Night with Barry Humphries‘ at the Regal Theatre with a few friends. Having just graduated with my MBA I was back teaching full time and for some reason I was not enjoying it anymore. I didn’t know why, but I was getting around to the notion that a career change might be in order. A night out with Dame Edna and other characters would be the levity I needed.

As we took our seats (in the second row) a sinking feeling came upon me. Known for ripping into his audience and making them part of the ‘entertainment’, I was not sure I was in the mood for public humiliation. The first half proceeded without incident, although I do remember that Mr Humphries was looking in my direction every now and again – sizing up his prey no doubt for the second half?

My worst fears were realised as Dame Edna bounded out to the second half with the lights going UP on the first rows of the audience. We suddenly felt very exposed, and increasingly, warm. A few minutes in, the Dame went along our row asking whether we’d had anything for dinner. As it got to me I blurted out something or other and for some reason this got a laugh. Edna rounded on me, inviting me to give more details, and wondering aloud if we might still be hungry. “Oh, they really are a lovely couple, ladies and gentlemen, shall we order them a meal?”. This he promptly did, live on stage. A gold plated telephone was produced on a silver platter: “Oh hello? Is this the Subi hotel? Agh yes, this is Dame Edna Everidge here, and I would like to order a chicken pasta, with a nice bottle of white, and a salad for this charming couple …”.

‘You’re in for it now‘ my friends whispered. We sunk lower in our chairs. Dame Edna continued her routine. About 20 minutes later the meal arrived and was set up on a table to the right hand side of the stage, red and white checked table cloth and all. “Agh where’s the lovely couple?” asked the Dame, and we were enticed up onto the stage.

Now I was quite used to performing, and ‘sort of OK’ with this, but I was more worried about Lisa, who I knew might not be relishing what was about to happen. The old pro in Barry Humphries instinctively sensed this planting a huge lipstick kiss on her cheek (see photo) and making us both feel very much at home. He sat down with us at the table on stage, carried on with his act, and kept what I can only describe as a ‘motherly interest’ in how our meal was going over the next 40 minutes (I was too nervous to eat, but I enjoyed a few glasses of wine) .

We had the best seats in the house – on stage! He was masterful in his performance, and seeing it up close like this was a special treat. I don’t think Lisa or I will ever forget it.

What a pro.

What was even weirder was later that night, on returning home I listened to a message on the phone. It was Nick, someone I’d got to know on the MBA, who had had a business idea for an online map-based real estate business. “It’s a great idea Charlie“, the message went on, “you and I have gotta do it“.

Yes, the same night as being hauled on stage with Dame Edna, the ‘aussiehome.com’ idea was born. I was ready for the change, and as the Dame was used to saying, “That’s spooky darling”. Sometimes things just happen, and in the strangest ways.


The war to end all wars

over the top

100 years ago today an assassination occurred on the streets of Sarajevo that would lead 37 days later to the outbreak of the ‘Great War’ (later renamed ‘World War One’ after the world was embroiled in another, even deadlier one, a quarter of a century later).

The ‘war to end all wars’ became quagmired in a muddy trench war stalemate for bloody year after bloody year, with the ritual slaughter of millions (37 million being the accepted estimate). Often tens of thousands would be mown down in just an afternoon. To visit the mass graves around Ypres and the Sommes is still a shuddering experience all these years on. My parents took me there when I was an impressionable teenager in the 1970s. We found the small gully where my Mum’s father, Charles (who I am named after) charged down through a field of cabbages on horseback towards the German gatling guns. At the time, he noticed a few cavalrymen falling off their horses and thought ‘Why is that happening?’. In the heat of the moment, he hadn’t realised they were being shot. He was 21. They reached the German lines to find the trenches deserted. With no other way to have word from their commanders, someone had to ride back through the lines to find out what they had to do next. One person had 3 horses shot from under him and was later awarded a VC. When the order finally came back it read: “retreat to your earlier position.” Just one typical story of the futility of the war, and the leaderless management thereof. This was part of the Battle of Cambrai (1917), the first battle to use tanks, and one the last to use cavalry.

A few miles away, and a couple of years earlier in 1915, my dad’s father Howard was engaged in an ‘over the top’ charge with his brother Bertie, both of the Essex Yeomanry. In the confusion of battle, both were separated and injured that day, Howard crawling through the mud having taken shrapnel to his leg (a mangled 1909 minted coin, which is in my possession, saved his leg and probably his life). After many hours and in great pain, he finally reached a mobile hospital, only to be told his was the wrong regiment and had to be treated elsewhere. Recounting the story to me (aged 9) some 60 years later, he had tears streaming down this face. After several operations and a painful rehabilitation he found himself invalided out of the army back in his Post office day job in London. One evening, commuting through Paddington Station a lady came up to him and gave him a yellow rose (‘awarded’ to those who had not signed up, as a mark of cowardice). Rather than argue his case, explaining that he had in fact signed up and seen action, my grandfather stiffened and merely said, ‘Thank you madam’. Heartbreaking. In the 1970s we went to find the battle fields around Ypres where Granddad Howard had fought, found an inscription on the Menin Gate to a Sergeant Draper, of the same regiment, who died that day in 1917.

Howard lived to 87 and I was 10 before he passed away. I remember his stories and jokes. He always had an apple for me when he appeared at our house, tucked inside his large trench coat. Older brother Bertie would live to 100, and I remember visiting him too around that time, as well as his sister Maggie, who lived to the grand old age of 106. Meanwhile my maternal grandfather, Charles, who we all called ‘Pop’, lived to 6 days before his 100th birthday in 1996. His funeral was on what would have been his 100th. He had plans to ride a horse on his birthday. Instead, a bugler from his old regiment played at the church. A few years earlier, as Brigadier the Rev. Harris,  he had read the Ode of Remembrance (‘at the going down of the sun, we will remember them’) at Westminster Cathedral on Remembrance Sunday, in front of the Queen Mother.

I tell my own children about their great grand parents and what they did. My son took the mangled coin into his Primary School a few Anzac Days ago to tell the Howard’s story . I’ll never forget my grand dads. The war to end all wars did not end all wars, but it brought millions of stories, and in our household we will be sure to continue the memory of what they did all those years ago.


Effective decision making

Which way?

A sign above my desk says ‘if you’ve never made a mistake, you’ve never made a decision‘, which I like not just because of the clever use of double negative, but more due to the dig it gives to those who cannot get off the fence or those who tend to over analyse or even lampoon others for mistakes made. Don’t be scared to make a decision, even it leads to worse outcomes, it urges. That does not mean you need to make decisions all over the place, willy nilly, irrespective of what happens. But it does urge you to do something, although ‘doing nothing’ can sometimes be the best decision.

Another saying goes that ‘the first sign of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different result’, which speaks to those who cannot embrace or effect change. It’s easier to go with what you know, what is comfortable. Sometimes that is the right thing to do. However, often managers will carry on with a decision even if it’s clear it is going horribly wrong. Weak leaders cannot admit when things are going badly, blaming everyone and everything else instead (‘the market’ is a common scapegoat).

Confused? Possibly. Decision making is not pure science; it’s a mix of analytic skill, clear strategic thinking, timing, strength of character and gut feel. It’s not much different to decisions made in a sporting arena (‘which club to take here? should I go for the green or take the safer lay up option?’). Sensing when to ‘up the pace’ or when to ‘sit in and consolidate’ is important.

None of this gives an answer to the eternal question: how can I make the most effective decisions? If we define an ‘effective’ decision as one that leads to the desired goal, then firstly you need to be clear what your goal is. Growth is often a business goal. Survival might be the aim for others. Transforming the business may be the objective. Or fast growth and then a quick sale.

Once you have you goal, you can decide on the outcomes by which all decisions can be gauged. My advice is then to do various things at once: research (hard) and gather as much relevant information around the decision as you can. Talk it out, with yourself, and relevant team members. Engage and encourage thinking throughout (and outside) the organisation, but put a time limit on it. At some stage you need to reach a decision, one that you can look back on later and think ‘yes, I made the best decision I could in the circumstances’, no matter what. Don’t do it blindly, rashly, angrily. Do it sensibly, calmly and in determined fashion. Mix research, varied advice and feeling. If you can convince others of the wisdom of the decision, then you probably believe it yourself.

On major decisions, I tend to go through this process and ‘mill it around’ for a week or three. I often commit the arguments to paper, re-read the document, improving it through various iterations. But there then comes a time when the everything firms, the decision is made, and it’s commitment time. You’ll know when. Next stage is to communicate the whys and wherefores of the decision clearly to the organisation. Follow through, enact and execute your decision firmly. Be alive to any necessary tweaks as you go along, but lead strongly and take the team with you. If things don’t go well, learn what happened and why. Was the decision-making process flawed? What new information came to light that might explain what went wrong? If all goes to plan, or better, celebrate with your team and thanks those involved.

Whatever happens, don’t die wondering. I’ve made some biggies in my time, such as leaving the UK to work in Singapore, leaving there to come to Perth, to do an MBA, to then set up my own business, to then sell it, and then move on to my current position. Within each organisation there were also major decisions to be made, sink or swim decisions some of them; each time risks were assessed; each time results were captured and compared to original goals and ideas. Through this, the decision making process was refined.

I have met people that could (and could not) make decisions; some that could make dramatic decisions based on flimsy evidence, others that could not make a decision even when the options were fairly clear, others that could not make decisions unless 100+ page documents were prepared and a six to eighteen month process was engaged in. This latter group is interesting as they believe if everyone is included then they cannot be blamed (as you all agreed right?). Trouble is, nothing is really done, and the process is so agonisingly drawn out the world moves on beyond the original issue. People lose the will to live. I have seen inertia and apathy, crazy risk taking and bold brilliance. I don’t think the answer lies in any of these paths, but more in a calm, timely mix of deep thought, relevant evidence and engaged reasoning.

Best of luck to you!


Klout scoring your twitter folks

Klout Scores showing on your twitter streamI am becoming more and more impressed with the new look Klout, a free service some may have dabbled with a few years ago, then put aside as a meaningless ‘online influence rating‘ score, and not much more.

Well the guys and gals at Klout have been working away to improve things and add value (do I have to remind you it’s still free?!) and a few weeks ago I posted about their new curation service. Yesterday I was prompted to download their new Chrome Browser app (yes, your internet browser can now come loaded with apps), which then acts as a fast way to keep tabs on your own klout page (to get that all that curation happening quick smart) but also displays everyone’s klout score on your twitter feed (see image grab above). Now that is interesting. Instantly, you can see who is more influential (remember, it’s not what you say so much as what others say about you). Seeing who is influential gives you a clue to how much power they have online (a bit like seeing the SEO power of a website as a score in search results).

Klout has not just released a new Chrome browser app, they also have one for Firefox or Safari browsers, so click here to  find out how to install them and how to use them.

Impressive Klout. You’re making it hard to ignore you!


Naming your startup

On Thursday night I gave a presentation on ‘Naming your Startup‘, (see slides here, or above) to the Perth Founder Institute.

In many ways, the name of your company can mean everything, and nothing. You could name it “Blaghhh” or “Twitter” or “Google” or “Snapchat” or some such invented name, (err… not the last 3, they exist, but before they did exist, they each sounded equally silly.)

I remember naming ‘aussiehome.com’. It was not our first choice. It was ‘realsimple.com’, as we wanted to make real estate simple, making it easier for the home seeker and the agent alike. But the domain was taken by a Californian IT consulting business (it now seems to belong to someone else). Second choice was Perth Home, but should that be perthhome.com or perthome.com? – both looked wrong. So we plumped for ‘aussiehome.com’, and were amazed to find the domain was available. We jumped on it, and that day also went to ASIC to set up ‘aussiehome.com Pty Ltd’.

We had a few issues with the ‘aussiehome.com’ name; not from Aussie Home Loans (we went to see them early on in fact), but with the misspelling of the name, such that people would introduce us as ‘aussiehomes.com’ (it happened on Thursday night!). A few early clients over the years ended up going to the wrong URL as a result. We always emphasised the whole ‘aussiehome.com’ and never called ourselves ‘aussiehome’, so as to stress the point. I don’t think this closeness to the mortgage broker Aussie Home Loans really did us much harm (or good) over the years. It was just a slight annoyance for me, as I am fairly brand sensitive. If we’d known about the possible confusion, we may have gone for another name, but I’m not sure it really made any difference.

Names and brands are important, to be sure. Ideally you want a clear distinction around your brand. You want it be so strong that people just have to see the colours or shapes to know who you are.

A final thing on brands.  Your brand is whatever your customers comes to mind when they think about you, see your logo or experience your product or service. It is out of your hands – whatever they think or emote is what your brand is to them. Yes you can influence this, but ultimately, your customers own your brand, not you.


The victory is on the opposition

Thatcher's victory was Blair

Blair transformed his organisation due to Thatcher’s consistent victories

It was a wintry English day in late 1988, and I took my A-Level class to the Westminster Hall in London for an Economics conference. On the bill was the the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasurer) John Smith, but he could not make it on the day, so his very young looking 35 year old parliamentary private secretary (who no one had heard of) filled in instead.

At the time the British Labour party was a laughing stock. Maggie Thatcher ruled supreme, her Conservative party was half way through its 18 year reign, having won easy elections in 1979, 1983 and 1987. They would go on to win again in 1992. As we listened to the young MP from Sedgefield, we realised that this bloke was not a loony leftie. He was highly articulate and argued clearly with passion. The Hall was spellbound, hanging off every word. This guy’s good, I thought. I was a natural Labour-leaning voter, a teacher in a government school, appalled at what the Thatcher government was doing to public education (I saw the crumbling and lack of investment first hand. In my two years of teaching there had already been multiple teachers’ strikes.)

When it was Q&A time, one of my braver students stood at the microphone and politely asked Tony Blair (for it was he): ‘Your Labour party has been trounced in every election in my living memory – how can you be so sure that you’ll get back into power and enact the things you want to do?’

Blair listened patiently, and smiled a half smile. He then let fly with a strong argument about hope and change, never giving up, and why he believed what he believed, and why it was crucial for the country. Never give up hope, he implored, never think there is no option.

Wow, I thought, I’m going to watch this guy’s career. He’s something.

Six years later, the Shadow Chancellor had become leader of the party, and then, tragically, suddenly died. Tony Blair ascended to the leadership (aged 41) and 3 years later became Prime Minister (the youngest since 1812) in a landslide. He would be PM for the next 10 years, one that showed great early promise (peace in Northern Ireland probably being his greatest triumph) with a popularity rating as high as 93% in 1997; but his later years would be tarred by the rising fatalities of the increasingly unpopular Iraq War and his strongly held views around the the regime’s weapons of mass destruction (which proved to be a fiction).

In a Shakespearean tragedy, Blair swept all before him until being undone by his own overblown rhetoric and the nagging jealousies of his own Treasurer, who wanted the crown for himself.

When I think of Blair, I think back to that fresh faced energetic 35 year old I saw hold a 1000 strong audience in his hand. He was a product of the Thatcherite time, a new Labour MP. For surely the greatest victory Thatcher had (and there were a few – although she also had her own Shakespearean end) was what she did to the Labour party. She transformed it, out of necessity, and Blair was one of the few that led them out of the wilderness into the powerful political force they became in mid 1990s and into the 2000s. His win in 1997 was the largest ever for his party, and he went on to win another landslide in 2001 and win again in 2005 (post Iraq War, with a reduced minority). No Labour leader had been PM that long.

When you beat an opposition, in business, politics or sport, be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.


Tell me a story


We love stories. We are wired for stories. Over the generations, we learned from our elders as they used stories to widen our eyes and make us listen and remember. And so information was passed on through the ages.

I get out to quite a few presentations these days, and in the past few weeks alone have listened to a former prime minister, a Premier, both a state and a federal treasurer (trying to sell their respective budgets) and a few other current and former ministers. Some were better communicators than others. I’ve also heard various business people give presentations, and they have ranged from the jaw-achingly awful to the spell binding. And in each case, separating the good from the bad really came down to the ability to tell stories.

John Howard held the attention of a room of 1000 people at the Perth Convention Centre the week before last, amazing his audience with his vivid memory from the 70s through to modern day. His recall (no doubt rose-tinted) helped place his arguments in context. You could see the nodding heads around the room as listeners recalled the same events he described. Speaking without notes and coming on after 3 previous speakers (who’d collectively taken up 90 minutes) he showed all the mastery and toughness that helped him though 33 years of parliamentary life as he climbed (as Disraeli once described) the “greasy pole”. He finished on time. To the minute. Humour was sprinkled in at intervals. Some of the other speakers lost my attention at various moments, but JH held me for 35 minutes straight.

Say you have a 20 minute or 30 minute time slot (or even just 3 minutes). Think stories. Think simple. People will relax and warm to you. Smile. Speak clearly and firmly. Learn your craft by rolling out these stories from time to time to different audiences. Perfect them. I practice in the bathroom in front of the mirror or in the garden. My family think me mad. Remember, most of the time, most of your audience would never have heard these stories before. Launch straight in. No messing. Use descriptive language to set the scene, to transport your audience. And then make the points clearly and effectively from the stories relayed. It’s about the most effective communication technique on the planet.

Kill the bullet points; use images in your slides (if you need any at all – John Howard had none, nor did the other pollies). Tell stories. And watch your audience lap it up.

If you have time: watch this presentation on this very subject.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Tell stories (right off the bat)
  2. No bullet points, use images on your slides (if you have slides at all – a great way to practice speaking is with NO visual aids. Remember, YOU are your best visual aid)
  3. Get to the WHY, use emotion to reach your audience (then they’ll follow you)
  4. Use simple language, four letter words
  5. Don’t try to make more than 1, 2 or 3 points
  6. Keep to time. Never rush. Practice, practice, practice. If it’s a 10 minute speech, hit your mark bang on 10 minutes. Anything else is an insult to your audience.



Goodbye Commercialisation Australia. Though I never knew you at all…

CA is no more
Last week’s federal budget axed the Commercialisation Australia (CA) program (and a few others), saving $847 million from the public purse. It is to be replaced with a new $484 million scheme, the Entrepreneur’s Infrastructure Program (EIP), of which there is scant detail.

Hundreds of Aussie companies will be affected by the closure of Commercialisation Australia. (Over 500 have received funding over the past few years.) Not only will this stall their innovation & businesses, it will mean that less private funding will result. Over the last few years, most CA funding has attracted at least a dollar for dollar matching investment from angel or VC funds (often two dollars). While not for everyone, CA provided a platform for businesses to get going, and much needed advice (each business received an appointed AusIndustry officer).

When I ran my own startup I did not go for CA funding – there were too many hoops to jump through, and it took too much time to do all the admin. I had to get going quickly to take advantage of the emerging opportunities. But I know of many companies that have used the CA grant money as a lifeline for their fledgling business, and it’s sad to see it go. I spoke to one such business today and they were well into the process, and thought the whole thing had been a “complete disgrace”. It’s basically wasted almost a year of their time.

All this is strangely familiar. When Rudd’s Labor party came to power in 2007, they axed the previous system (Commercial Ready) and introduced Commercialisation Australia. Now the new mob have axed that and are bringing in their new thing, EIP.

I thus got to penning a short ditty in honour of CA’s passing… to be hummed along, and with humble apology to,  Elton John’s Candle in the Wind…

Goodbye CA
Though I never knew you at all
You were important to many businesses
Who were just learning to crawl

They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
You set them on the treadmill
And many changed their name

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
Til  the next party blew in

And many got to know you
Though their businesses were kids
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did