Lessons in entrepreneurship from Thomas Telford

For thousands of years the only way to cross the Menai Strait to Anglesey from the North Wales mainland was to walk it at low tide, a perilous experience at the best of times, or to make an equally hazardous ferry crossing. But on January 30 1826, as bands played and locals waved flags and cheered, the Menai Suspension Bridge formally opened, the world’s first modern suspension bridge.

Last Saturday, August 10, marked the two hundredth anniversary of when work had begun building the iconic bridge in 1819, led by Thomas Telford. He had been given the task of improving the London to Dublin journey via the Holyhead road, a route that became the A5. Completing the bridge shaved nine hours on the London to Holyhead journey, and was immeasurably safer.

Because of the high banks and fast flowing waters of the Strait, it would have been difficult to build piers on the shifting sands of the seabed, and they would have obstructed navigation. Also, the bridge had to be high enough to allow the passage of the tall ships of the day. In view of this, Telford proposed that a suspension bridge should be built.

Construction of the bridge began with the towers either side of the Strait. Made from limestone quarried at nearby Penmon, they were brought by barge to the site. The towers were of hollow construction, reinforced with metal girders and stanchions inside. The problem of spanning the 600ft Straits was solved by creating sixteen giant chain cables made from iron, each of them weighing 121 tons.

The cables were strung from the towers across the water in huge loops. In order to stop them rusting, the cables were soaked in linseed oil and then painted. The stonework on the towers was finished in 1824, five years after it had begun. Stringing the giant cables took a further two years. The magnificent Menai Suspension Bridge was called the best road built anywhere before the coming of the motor car.

I was about eight years old when I first stood on the bridge where Telford once stood. It was my grandfather, Sydney Brookes, born on Anglesey, who taught me to love the bridge, with it’s industrial history, that produced such a magical sight. This was to be my first encounter with the Scottish stonemason-architect-engineer-entrepreneur, Thomas Telford, and his achievements have stood out in my mind since.

Telford is a role model for any modern day innovator and pioneer, designing and building an enormous chunk of the infrastructure of Georgian and early Victorian Britain, revered by engineers and industrial archaeologists alike. Born at Glendinning, Eskdale, Scotland in 1757, his father John was a shepherd and died in November the same year. He received elementary education at the local school and also helped out with various jobs around the area. He was known locally as ‘Laughing Tam’.

Aged fourteen he was apprenticed to a stone mason, and examples of his work can still be seen in Langholm and Westerkirk areas today. In 1780 he moved to Edinburgh and worked around Princes Street. In 1782 he travelled to London and gained promotion to a first class mason. He then worked in Portsmouth dockyard as a supervisor, where he developed his design and project management skills.

In 1815 he was commissioned to improve the route from London to Holyhead, which included major works such as Waterloo Bridge at Betws y Coed, Nant Ffrancon pass in Snowdonia, and the Menai Bridge. The commission was extended to include the Bangor to Chester road, which involved the headland roads and tunnels at a Penmaenmawr and Penmaenbach, the embankment crossing the Conwy estuary and the Conwy Suspension bridge. The whole commission was completed in 1826.

He constructed the aqueduct at Pontcysyllte, which carries the Llangollen canal across the Dee Valley in a long iron trough. The aqueduct opened only a few weeks after the battle of Trafalgar, with a flag-flying ceremony that echoed the mood of a nation that was being melded together by industrialisation and military victories. Telford was in the vanguard of this movement, building things not for private gain but for progressive purpose, with the clear intent of creating a stronger and more united kingdom.

Telford grew from a poor shepherd boy from the Borders to become a self-made man and an audacious visionary. In his seventy seven years, the iron-willed Telford worked on many ambitious projects, including ninety-three large bridges and aqueducts. He cut the great waterway, the Caledonian Canal, from sea to sea across the top of Scotland. He constructed more than a dozen road schemes in England and Wales.

He was the architect of over thirty churches in Scotland, worked on water works, improved river navigation and devised drainage schemes. Towards the end of his life he surveyed early railway routes, and died in 1834 just as railways were spreading across the country.

Telford shaped the lives of the Victorian civil engineers who followed him and led the Royal Institution which still guides the engineering profession. Almost everything he built is still in use. An intensely private man, Telford never married or had children, but he was an amateur poet who sent his verses to Robert Burns, a contemporary. He was also a friend and travelling companion of the poet laureate, Robert Southey, who came up with his soubriquet – Colossus of Roads.

He was always on the move, hugely energetic, a man in a hurry to get things done. He wasn’t an inventor, but he was brilliant at seeing possibilities in a project, then finding the right people. One of the joys of his work is that pretty much everything he built was beautifully designed and architected, not simply functional. People cared about the beauty of structures then in a way they don’t now – Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about one of his iron bridges.

Telford advanced the art of building in iron, with many of his bridges remaining in use today. He is buried in the nave of Westminster Abbey, known as the man who joined up the kingdom, not only as an engineer, but as an entrepreneur who could take risks, who knew about design, financing, business, and the importance of teamwork to evolve superior engineering feats at a rapid pace.

So as we admire his finest legacy spanning the Menai Strait some two hundred years after the first block went in place, what can we take from the heritage and spirit of endeavour from Thomas Telford, into our C21st entrepreneurial ventures?

Never give up attitude One eminent trait of Telford was that no matter what the obstacle was, he never gave up. Telford was exceptionally motivated and self-driven. Unlike ordinary men, he displayed outright determination to continue and keep moving forward through all disparities. Telford had a clear vision of what he wanted and was wholeheartedly driven to do the right thing in achieving what he desired. Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.

Aim for the big picture Telford targeted exceedingly challenging obstacles, ready to take big risks and had no short-term gains in sight. There was a time when no one believed in his ideas, but this did not get his spirits down. He believed in himself.

In the words of Muhammad Ali, Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Telford’s enormous ambition -to do what everyone said couldn’t be done – far exceeded the vision of everyone around him. Doing the impossible starts with having a grand, albeit crazy, vision. He aimed for breakthroughs and the big picture every time. He brought revolutionary thinking into engineering advancement.

Work on the ground level Telford possessed the ability to think at the system level of design. He knew exactly what he wanted and sat with his team, he was the connection between the vision and engineers’ interest. Telford seemed to be a taskmaster but his attitude set the culture of the team and project. He believed in getting his hands dirty by working with the engineers on the ground. This pragmatic style of leadership never goes amiss in a startup.

Belief in self-analysis Telford believed in self-analysis and critical thinking about oneself. He thought that people did not think critically enough – and it is one of the reasons for startup failure, founders often take too many things for granted without enough basis in their business model and market assumptions. Don’t delude yourself into thinking something’s working when it’s not, or you’ll get fixated on a potentially bad solution.

Being a competent engineer requires you to solve complex problems and navigate around difficult situations when they arise, a useful skill for any entrepreneur. There is little structure and lots of complexity in engineering projects that you need to navigate daily, as someone who is running a start up. You have to assess risks and challenges wisely, and pivot when required.

For both engineers and entrepreneurs, reflection and self-conscious analysis are essential. Both need to examine their projects to prototype better solutions, make changes quickly and persevere even if challenges seem great.

Problem Solving skills Perhaps it’s no coincidence that many entrepreneurs started their companies in a garage – from Apple, Amazon to Harley-Davidson. For many, the idea of a garage is synonymous with tinkering, and you can imagine Telford working through different versions of his thinking – given many of his engineering feats were ‘firsts’ in terms of design and solution

Analysing a problem from a “What if… then” point of view allows a startup founder to face a challenge with an open mind and to reach an educated solution. If the solution is not met, the experiment is not a failure; it is simply restarted.

A ‘crystal clear’ massively transformative purpose Not a phrase around at the time of Telford, but it’s a phrase that captures the inspirational work of Elon Musk, and it applies to Telford. Part of Telford’s ability to motivate his team to do great things was his crystal-clear ‘Massively Transformative Purpose’, which drove each of his engineering ventures. Musk’s MTP for Tesla is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. To this end, every project Telford completed was focused on his vision and backed by a Master Plan. Have a vision, make it happen.

Musk says I try to do useful things. That’s a nice aspiration. And useful means it is of value to the rest of society. Are they useful things that work and make people’s lives better, make the future seem better, and actually are better, too? I think we should try to make the future better.

This is the ideology of Telford, and though basic, it’s actually very rare. Think of the other names we associate with entrepreneurship and innovation this century, they’re people who’ve built amazing operating systems, devices, websites or social-media platforms. Amazing innovations yes, but not with the impact Musk seeks to achieve, or indeed Telford delivered.

Telford was Britain’s greatest civil engineer, who can take the credit for much of the industrial revolution’s sublime architecture. His achievements were truly remarkable. Throughout his life he remained a peripatetic bachelor, hurrying from one job to the next, writing instructions and plans from country inns by candlelight.

The roads and bridges he built carried fishermen to the village and the fish to the cities, built the church in which they prayed, the port which landed the herring, and the harbours from which some of them emigrated to new lives in North America: all of them were his.

Telford had the entrepreneurial spark. He was more than just ideas and allure. Telford was a rare business leader who was interested in mankind as a whole and wanted to explore how engineering could change the world he lived in. The Menai Suspension Bridge is a remarkable testimony to this spirit, and his entrepreneurial endeavours.

Greggs: an agile approach to strategy & business model thinking

John Gregg founded his bakery business in 1939, selling eggs and yeast from his bicycle in Newcastle. The business grew, and his son Ian joined his father and mother, selling pies from his van to miners’ wives. They opened their first shop in Gosforth in 1951.

When John died in 1964, the bakery was taken over by Ian, and major expansion began, including the acquisitions of other bakeries such as the Bakers Oven chain from Allied Bakeries in 1994.

Greggs grew to be the largest bakery chain in the UK, home of the bacon sandwich and a coffee for two quid special offer which, disappointingly, is now £2.10 (a friend told me, honestly), famous for pies and pasties and everything you firmly resolved on December 31 would never touch your lips again.

A couple of years ago, Greggs fell victim to adverse PR about its product range and customer base. Oh how the Prêt crowd sniggered into their avocado and crayfish salads. Yet plucky old Greggs just got its head down and kept growing. ‘It’s a northern thing’ no longer serves as an explanation. The patronising notion that Greggs’s popularity is inversely proportional to the nation’s economic fortunes also fails to explain its steady expansion.

Today Greggs generate £1m a week from sales of coffee. It has repositioned the brand from an ordinary bakery-to-take-home to a high growth food-on-the-go entity, meeting changing customer demands and evolving food culture.

A new strategy was introduced in 2013 under CEO Roger Whitehouse, formerly Head of M&S Food, which focused on four pillars: Great tasting freshly prepared food; best customer experience; competitive supply chain; first class support teams.

Whitehouse introduced a ‘restless dissatisfaction’ approach to compliment the traditional business values, ensuring the business would never stand still after recovering from a period of stagnation. He implemented some radical changes, including closing the in-store bakeries, and introducing the ‘Balanced Choice’ range of products with less than four hundred calories, healthier options to the traditional product range.

And it’s worked. Having launched the first vegan sausage roll in January, last week the company announced a 50% rise in profits to £40.6m in the first half of 2019. The business is handing shareholders a £35m special dividend after total sales rose 14.7% to £546m.

In 2016, Greggs weren’t in the takeaway breakfast market but now only McDonalds sells more takeaway breakfasts. With a Fairtrade Expresso, it has overtaken Starbucks to become the third-largest takeaway coffee seller, behind Costa and McDonalds, while only Tesco sells more sandwiches.

So what are the lessons from the success of Greggs changing its business strategy and model that we take into our startup thinking?

1.     Be agile in how you connect with customers

Greggs expects to pass 2,000 outlets this year, 65% are on high streets, with the remaining 35% located in retail and office parks and in travel locations such as railway stations and petrol forecourts. The aim is to change the emphasis of the business so that it is 60% non-high street by the time it has 2,500 shops.

Part of this is having many of its stores open earlier and close later, in order to target those going to and coming back from work, expanding its breakfast menu to suit, and with ‘Greggs à la carte’ stores to open late to 9pm to lure evening takeaway diners.

As well as its new drive-through locations, the company is trialing a click-and-collect service, as well home and office delivery by Just Eat and Deliveroo. They aim to integrate click-and-collect and delivery services with the company’s Greggs Rewards app, which offers free drinks and birthday treats.

Greggs has previously failed with new ideas such as Greggs Moment, a coffee shop-style outlet with seating, and the Greggs Delivered service, which is only available in Newcastle and Manchester city centres, three years after it launched. However, the business is now at a scale where it can experiment without too much risk.

Takeaway: Greggs route to market strategy is to based on expanding their reach to enhance customer convenience, a ‘fish where they swim’ strategy, reducing the barriers between themselves and their customers, uplifting the customer experience and making the ability to connect and purchase convenient.

2.     Build your brand to face your market

Greggs has in recent years persistently bucked the wider trend on UK high streets, where most retailers are struggling to compete as sales shift online and the cost of running stores rises.

In 2013, Greggs began to transition out of the bakery market with the reasoning that it couldn’t compete with supermarkets, switching to focusing solely on the ‘food on the go’ market after discovering that 80% of its business was with that market. They stopped selling bread in 2015.

Greggs has worked hard at getting consumers to think about it as a food-on-the-go chain, developing ideas such as online ordering for collection and home delivery, developing strategic partnerships with their supply chain to focus on the four key pillars of their strategy.

They are more in touch with where the customers are today. It has managed to cater to new markets without being overly ambitious. The builder can still come off the building site and get a hot pasty, but there are also salads. The decor is still recognisable even if it has been upgraded and the older traditional customers still feel comfortable.

Takeaway: Many businesses want profit as their objective. But if you only focus on short-term wins and results, you get distracted from doing the work required to build the skills you need to grow and scale, and it’s the ability to scale that matters. The process is more important than the outcome at early stages of a change of strategy. Focus on getting good before you worry about getting big.

3.     Look forwards, not backwards with your product offering

Greggs sells 1.5 million sausage rolls a week but created the new vegan option due to public demand after an online petition signed by 20,000 people. In recent years Greggs has been innovating within its product range to appeal to a broader range of customers. Its ‘Balanced Choice’ healthy eating range, introduced in 2014, offers options including wraps and salads, all below 400 calories. It also sells gluten-free and several vegan lines.

The company also believes it can take advantage of rising demand for food ‘customisation’, driven by allergies and ‘food avoidance’ preferences, and its stores now make sandwiches to request.

One in eight new customers have bought a vegan sausage roll in 2019, which has overtaken doughnuts and other pastries to become a bestseller. The traditional sausage rolls remain at number one – with its 96 layers of light, crisp puff pastry – but there are more vegan products in development, including a vegan doughnut. It’s worked, such that Ginsters released their own vegan product for the first time in its 52-year history.

Takeaway: Greggs has been bold in its response to the adverse publicity on its offering and changing food culture. Aligning your product strategy with a focused brand image and route to market is core to any business model.

4.     Be clear about your marketing message & tone of voice

Before the Greggs vegan sausage rolls went on sale, TV presenter Piers Morgan sent out a tweet: Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns. The tone of the company’s response: Oh hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you – friendly but with a slight edge, was perfectly attuned to the ironic, self-confident marketing Greggs has adopted, a James Bond-inspired, droll putdown that was the perfect riposte.

Their hilariously portentous launch video – part of a build-up that parodied the release of a new iPhone model with journalists sent vegan rolls in mock iPhone packaging and stores sold sausage roll phone cases – meant that for days Twitter was engulfed with people talking about a £1 bakery product.

The vegan sausage roll campaign, officially launched to support the Veganuary campaign that encouraged people to give up animal products for a month, followed other memorable promotions include a Valentine’s Day campaign offering ‘romantic’ £15 candlelit dinners in Greggs shops, and a spoof ‘Gregory and Gregory’ event, and one faux pas: a 2017 advent calendar tableau of a sausage roll in a manger. After complaints Greggs apologised and reprinted with a different scene featuring Christmas muffins.

Takeaway: Greggs found its distinctive marketing style in 2012, when it saw off then-chancellor George Osborne’s proposed ‘pasty tax’ on hot takeaway food. Since then it has been consistent in its purposeful, structured and memorable content driven communication strategy, making the brand relevant to its target audience and differentiating its offering in an increasingly competitive market to reposition the brand.

5.     Don’t let your business model become stale

Innovation can be about efficiency. Look at Ikea, and The Billy bookcase. It’s a bare-bones, functional bookshelf if that is all you want from it. The Billy isn’t innovative in the way that the iPhone is innovative. The Billy innovations are about working within the limits of production and logistics, finding tiny ways to shave more off the cost, all while producing something that does the job. It demonstrates that innovation in the modern economy is not just about snazzy new technologies, but also boringly efficient systems.

The Greggs shop environment has been improved and significant investments made in logistics and delivery systems to make them more efficient and scalable. In-store ordering moved to a centralised forecast and replenishment system rather than relying on shop teams filling in manual order forms, which resulted in order accuracy and improved availability for customers.

All shops are on a refurbishment programme (every seven years) to ensure they stay looking bright and welcoming. In-store point of sale and window displays remain key to Greggs’ marketing strategy, however, a loyalty app was also introduced.

Takeaway: innovation in Greggs is about efficiency, economy and effectiveness, searching for ways to make their products even better and affordable for their target market. A ‘back to basics’ focus on the business model reflects the culture and humility of the brand. Combined with brave decision making to implement change and execution in a consistent, simple and continuous manner has delivered the results.

6.     Ensure your folks keep clear heads

Amidst the hullaballoo and the fury of the frantic activity in the coming and going of customers at busy times, staff have to keep a clear head. In the heat of the moment, they cannot get caught up in the intensity and frenzy. Resilience in times of peak demand is needed to keep the customer experience as fresh and stimulating as the steak bakes.

When you go to a Greggs, the staff are so engaged in what they do its untrue, they are like whirling octopus serving customers, and they do it with good humour, bantering with regulars, enjoying the success of seeing returning customers, before going again.

With 10% of profits going to the Greggs Foundation to help fund Breakfast Clubs for children and over £1m raised annually for Children in Need, the vegan pastry has helped change the perception of Greggs, but fundamentally it’s a people business, about delivering service, experience and the community it operates.

Takeaway: So, focused on a simple, core value proposition – reasonable quality food at reasonable prices, consistently produced and scaled – but the fundamental premise is to make customer experience the brand differentiator.

Many takeout food companies are head-on competition to Greggs, but due to its focused marketing strategies highlighting choice, quality, nutrition & easy access, the company is able to create sustainable advantage.

Changing lifestyles, changing eating habits and increasing health awareness factors are affecting the growth of the companies in this industry. Greggs has set its strategy from a customer’s point of view and with customer-based insights, to ensure the business model is as robust as it can be.

Adopt Greggs’ agile approach to strategy and business model thinking, to focus on the horizon and hold your vision. Do something everyday to move your business forward, and that makes you stand out from the crowd. A sheep has never stood out from another sheep, so don’t follow the herd blindly. People will take notice.

The innovation mindset of Alan Turing

Alan Turing is the founder father of computer science, the originator of the dominant technology of today. But these words were not spoken in his own lifetime.

Turing, the progenitor of modern computing, is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand. Post war at Manchester University, his genius embraced the first vision of modern computing and seminal insights into what we know as ‘artificial intelligence’. As one of the most influential Bletchley Park code breakers of World War II, his cryptology yielded intelligence that hastened the Allied victory.

Turing has now been recognised for the enormous impact his work has had on how we live today, chosen by the Bank of England to be the new face of its £50 note. The note will include a table and mathematical formulas from his work, and also include a quote: This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.

The Bank of England has hidden a tribute too – on the banknote are the numbers 1010111111110010110011000, which is a binary code that can be converted into decimal numbers to reveal Turing’s birthday – 23061912 or June 23, 1912. The new polymer £50 note is expected to enter circulation by the end of 2021.

On June 7, 1954 Turing died a criminal, forced to endure chemical castration following a conviction under Britain’s Victorian laws against homosexuality. The UK Government subsequently apologised for his treatment in 2009, and he was granted a royal pardon in 2013. A coroner determined that he had taken his own life from cyanide poisoning, a half-eaten apple beside him. The motive for his apparent suicide remains unclear, but known homosexuals were denied security clearances, which meant that Turing could not be involved in secret work during the Cold War, leaving him excluded and embittered.

Turing’s name is associated with the top-secret wartime operations of code breakers at Bletchley Park, where he oversaw and inspired the effort to decrypt ciphers generated by Nazi Germany’s Enigma machine, which had once seemed impenetrable. The Germans themselves regarded the codes as unbreakable.

On declaration of war, Turing joined the Bletchley Park code breakers at the Government Code and Cypher School, the forerunner of GCHQ, working in makeshift huts. Turing’s section, ‘Hut 8′, deciphered Naval and in particular U-boat messages, and was a key unit at Bletchley.

Their greatest initial challenge was figuring out the method of encryption of the German Enigma device, which was invented twenty years earlier by Arthur Scherbius, a German electrical engineer who had patented it as a civilian machine to encrypt commercial messages. The machine worked by entering letters on a typewriter-like keyboard and then encoding them through a series of rotors to a light board, which showed the coded equivalents. The machine was said to be capable of generating almost 159 quintillion permutations.

At the time, German submarines were prowling the Atlantic, hunting Allied ships carrying vital cargo for the war effort. The Allies relied on the cryptologists to decode messages betraying the U-boat locations. By one estimate, Turing’s work may have cut the war short by two years. They allowed code breakers to decipher up to 4,000 messages a day.

By 1942, Turing was the genius loci at Bletchley, famous as ‘Prof’, shabby, nail-bitten, tie-less, sometimes halting in speech and awkward of manner, the source of many hilarious anecdotes about bicycles, gas masks, the foe of charlatans and status-seekers, relentless in long shift work. He was known for chaining his tea mug to a radiator to prevent it from being taken by others.

In the last stage of the war (for which he was awarded an OBE) he created the ‘Universal Turing Machine, in effect the digital computer, a machine that would offer unlimited scope for practical progress towards embodying intelligence in an artificial form.

The concept of the Turing Machine has become the foundation of the modern theory of computation and computability. Imagine, as Turing did, each particular algorithm written out as a set of instructions in a standard form. The work of interpreting the instructions and carrying them out is itself a mechanical process, and so can itself be embodied in a particular Turing Machine, namely the Universal Turing Machine, ‘one machine for all possible tasks’.

It is hard now not to think of a Turing Machine as a computer program, and the mechanical task of interpreting the program as what the computer itself does. Additionally, the abstract Universal Turing Machine naturally exploits what was later seen as the ‘stored program’ concept essential to the modern computer: it embodies the crucial insight that symbols representing instructions are no different in kind from symbols representing numbers.

Turing’s post-war work at the University of Manchester on the first functioning British computers was hugely significant. He laid down principles that have moulded the historical record of the relationship between humans and machines. He was fascinated by the interplay between human thought processes and the computer, and spoke about ‘building a brain’.

At Manchester, Turing made highly significant contributions to the emerging field of computing, including the Manchester Mark 1, one of the first recognisable modern computers. Turing essentially pioneered the idea of computer memory, publishing a seminal paper, On Computable Numbers, referred to as ‘the founding document of the computer age’.

His ‘Abbreviated Code Instructions’ marked the beginning of programming languages. Out of this came pioneering innovation on what would now be called neural nets, written to amplify his earlier suggestions that a sufficiently complex mechanical system could exhibit learning ability. This was never published in his lifetime.

At Manchester, Turing could perhaps have led the world in software development. His partly explored ideas included the use of mathematical logic for program checking, implementing logical calculus on the machine, and other ideas which, combined with his massive knowledge of combinatorial and statistical methods, could have set the agenda in computer science for years ahead.

This, however, he failed to do; his work on machine-code programming was produced only as a working manual, limited in scope. Instead, there followed a confused period, in which Turing hovered between new topics and old.

Out of this confused era arose, however, the most lucid and far-reaching expression of Turing’s philosophy of machine and Mind: his paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950) showed the wit and drama of the Turing Test that has proved a lasting stimulus, a classic contribution to the philosophy and practice of Artificial Intelligence research.

Eccentric, solitary, gloomy, vivacious, resigned, angry, eager, dissatisfied — these had always been his ever-varying characteristics, and despite the strength that he showed in coping with difficult personal circumstances, no-one could have predicted his shabby treatment, which caused his demise.

Turing’s work breaking the Enigma machine remained classified long after his death, meaning that his contributions to the war effort and mathematics were only partially known to the public during his lifetime. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his instrumental role in the War victory became public with the declassification of the Enigma story. The actual techniques Turing used to decrypt the messages weren’t declassified until 2013.

From Tesla, to Turing, to Jobs, to Musk, entrepreneurs’ vision and endeavour pushes civilisation forward. They are the driving force of human evolution, the vanguard of innovation leading us into the future. Innovators are not just those who run a business as entrepreneurs, an innovator is anybody who is consciously building the future that has an impact on society.

To create something truly original requires a sense of courage, curiosity and vision. The interesting paradox here is that often those who invent new things also have a healthy disrespect for what has already been achieved. They use the past not as a boundary, but as the frontier upon which to innovate.

In this sense, those seeking to innovate to find reassurance in the discomfort of originality, as those who strive to create new things are quickly confronted by the stark reality that we live in a world that finds comfort in doing what is tried and tested. The battle against conventional wisdom, therefore, becomes the innovator’s greatest encounter.

Turing’s scientific contributions are in line with many of history’s greats. It’s also easy to recognise many of Turing’s personality traits in today’s tech entrepreneurs who succeeded him. All are great dreamers, certainly, but they also possess a tenacious and sometimes intransigent character with regards to the realisation of their vision.

Turing’s is a parable of radical innovation that goes beyond incremental advances in search of great opportunities that have the potential to open up a nexus of possibilities for society. It is what Peter Thiel, in his book Zero to One describes as 10x innovation, meaning that it provides a solution at least 10 times better than the current available solution.

Thiel points as examples to the Google algorithm, which was at least 10x more powerful than the others search engines that preceded it, as well as the Amazon platform, which offered at least 10x more books than any bookseller in the world. It is this kind of innovation, he notes, the world goes from a state of impossibility to a market reality.

Not many entrepreneurs today are working on 10x projects. Perhaps it is Elon Musk, with his SpaceX, Hyperloop and Tesla projects that will mark him out as the 10X innovator of the early C21st. The 10x innovation can sometimes be scary – recall the introduction of modern cinema in 1895 by the Lumière brothers, where the audience fled the room when they thought that the train in the movie would come out of the screen!

Fast-forward two decades from Turing’s death, to guys making personal computers in a garage in San Francisco in 1976. They had a name for their product and needed a logo. They idolised Turing’s ingenuity, genius and talent for putting together the first computer, and decided to honour him and comment on his persecution by removing a single bite from the apple graphic they had picked to represent their company.

And that’s how we got the iconic Apple logo on the back of all of our phones, computers, and iPods. Designer Rob Janoff says it was an easy choice, a tribute to Turing by Jobs and Wozniak. Jobs said the apple logo symbolises our use of computers to obtain knowledge and, ideally, enlighten the human race.

So the story goes – other theories – that the logo references Newton’s discovery of gravity also exist. The original apple logo from 1976 featured a hand drawn image of Isaac Newton under the tree where the apple fell with the copy: A mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought alone. Perfectly sums up Apple, as pioneers.

Whatever the story of the Apple logo, everyone using a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program today, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine and his legacy of innovation.

We don’t celebrate Turing enough, probably in part because of his sexuality, and also probably because he was a computer scientist and mathematician. We don’t value that history enough either. For me, putting him on a banknote for the public to see everyday is a start. Better, put him in the school curriculum as an icon in the history of science.

Turing was a remarkable 10x innovator. We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done, he once said of himself. Whatever you’re working on as an innovating entrepreneur today, this week, this month, look to the achievements and mindset of Alan Turing. You cannot climb uphill by thinking downhill thoughts. He didn’t stop to think how far he could go, neither should you.

Take a giant leap for your startup

On July 20, 1969, the world slowed down to watch a key moment in human history. Dinners went cold, families stayed up late, staring at their television sets. After a journey of eight days, three hours, eighteen minutes, thirty-five seconds Neil Armstrong walked a few steps down a ladder and placed his boot in the fine light-gray moon dust, followed by Buzz Aldrin. We were all standing there with them.

President Kennedy’s vision for putting a man on the moon stretched the best minds in aerospace to their limits and necessitating new ways of thinking and working – everything a startup needs to do.

It was incredible innovation, but it was also intimate. The Lunar Module was small – the two astronauts had 4.7m3 of pressurised volume between them, roughly twice the volume of a red telephone box. A tiny world, but a fully functioning spacecraft like none before it. Everything else on Apollo had been tried out at a smaller scale, but there had never been anything like the Lunar Module, designed to come down to land by its commander’s hand and eye in a place where nothing had landed before.

Humans going into space, the prospect of an unprecedented experience. Their hearts are beating fast. They see the moon surface in contours, pocked surface, hard-to-judge distances and near horizons, which gives them the ‘Earthrise’ view of Earth.

At the critical moment, Aldrin got a klaxon ringing in his earpiece. The console responded with error code 1202. Despite months of simulations, Aldrin didn’t know what this one meant; Armstrong, equally baffled, radioed Mission Control for clarification. The stress in his voice was audible. In that critical moment, hurtling like a paper plane toward the surface of the moon, the guidance computer had crashed.

The two men had trained for a computer error scenario, but it was up to Houston to make the call. When Mission Control heard Armstrong’s tense request for information, a well-rehearsed sequence of events played out. The scenario was a go – because below a 100 feet altitude an abort was no longer possible. Armstrong would be forced to attempt a landing even if his computer was malfunctioning.

He had little margin for error. On a hard crash landing, the astronauts might be killed; on a not-so-hard crash landing, the astronauts might survive, only to be stranded on the moon. In this nightmare scenario, Mission Control would bid Armstrong and Aldrin farewell, then cut communication as the two prepared to asphyxiate. Michael Collins, in the command module, would make the long journey back to Earth alone.

Imagine pulling the plug on the moon landing. Imagine not pulling the plug, then explaining to a nation and their families why two astronauts had been killed. By the time Houston relayed the message to Armstrong, almost 30 seconds had passed.

Armstrong resumed assessing the course to the landing area, from spending hours studying surface photographs, committing landmarks to memory. He’d noticed earlier that his trajectory was a little long, but before he could fully react, Aldrin queried the computer for altitude data. As before, he was answered by an alarm. The computer crashed again.

Back at Mission Control, was Don Eyles, 26 years old, who had programmed the software for the final descent. The first restart had alarmed Eyles. The second terrified him. This was not just a glitch but a crash. Eyles was out of the command loop, but he knew how the computer worked better than anyone. What Eyles deduced in that terrifying moment he would not reveal publicly for years to come: this scenario was not a go. It was an abort.

The console displayed nothing, just blank. Armstrong’s heart began to race, rising to 150 bpm, the same as a man at the end of a 100m sprint. With the moonscape zipping by outside his window, he was the closest any human had ever been to another world.

There were five computer crashes in four minutes. Mission Control went quiet, there was nothing useful left for them to say. Armstrong, following protocol, assumed manual control. He was going to have to eyeball it, piloting a malfunctioning spacecraft on an alien world.

He slowed the forward momentum, then rotated the legs toward the surface. Aldrin read aloud a steady stream of figures. With almost no fuel to spare, the Lunar Module dropped in slow motion to kiss the surface upright, and the particles of moondust hung suspended in the sunlight until the gentle lunar gravity pulled them back to rest.

Shortly afterwards, Armstrong planted the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbed down the ladder and proclaimed That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. Only a few have shared this vantage point.

Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours, 36 minutes on the moon’s surface, including a rest period of seven hours sleep. They blasted off back home, knocking over the American flag they had planted. They reunited with Collins, then three days later, splashed down in the Pacific.

Now, half a century after Armstrong planted his foot on the surface of the Moon, a new era of space exploration is beginning. Falling costs, new technologies, Chinese and Indian ambitions and a new generation of entrepreneurs promise a bold era of space development. It will range from the big business of launching and maintaining swarms of communication satellites in low orbit to the niche one of tourism for the wealthy.

Back in 1969, I was there. I saw Armstrong take his giant leap for mankind in grainy black and white images on the television screen. I’ve always had a keen interest in space adventure. At university, when looking through the Careers Guide for Graduates 1984 I stopped at the letter ‘A’ and send off applications for ‘Accountancy’ roles. I never got to ‘Astronaut’. Anyway, there probably wouldn’t have been the legroom in my allocated Apollo seat.

Landing on the Moon is, for me, mankind’s greatest entrepreneurial act. Think about it. Go outside tonight and look up. Imagine yourself up there, looking down. Imagine! How would you feel, blasting out of the atmosphere, orbiting the Earth, and standing on the moon! WOW.

Courage, ingenuity and one heck of a big adventure, leaping off into the unknown, driven by your vision, just like launching your own startup business. So what lessons can we take from the anniversary of this extraordinary achievement for startup entrepreneurs?

1. It starts with a vision

President John Kennedy went before Congress on May 25, 1961 and said we were going to the Moon. To say Kennedy’s vision was bold and set an ambitious timeline is an understatement. As a startup founder, he set down the purpose and the vision, expectations that you don’t think are realistic.

2. Have a sense of purpose

We knew what had to be done. How to do it in 10 years was never addressed before the announcement was made. But quite simply, we considered the program a number of phases – Dr. Maxime Faget, Chief Engineer & Designer of the Apollo command and lunar modules

When launching your startup, it’s a case of not knowing the unknowns, so don’t bother in trying to craft a detailed plan based on guesses, instead, break it down from the big vision into small steps and focus on attaining each one, one at a time.

3. Iterate – and don’t be afraid to modify the plan

On descent to the moon, the Lunar Module’s computer died, threatening the landing sequence. Likely crash at an alarming velocity, Armstrong took manual control, while Aldrin fed him altitude and velocity data. They successfully landed on the moon’s surface with just seconds of fuel left. If they hadn’t acted, Armstrong’s iconic moonwalk would never have happened.

No business plan survives the first contact with a customer, so remember that even the most well thought out startup plans may need to be altered if circumstances change or a new opportunity arises.

4. A startup is an experiment

We said to ourselves that we have now done everything we know how to do. We don’t know what else to do to make this thing risk-free, so it’s time to go – Dr. Christopher Kraft, Director of Flight Operations

Without taking that risk, the achievement would never have been made. NASA handled risk by actively looking for it and constantly asking themselves, ‘What if?’ It’s about calculated risk, don’t let an acceptable amount of risk keep you from pushing ahead.

5. It’s all about the team & communication

The Apollo team scaled rapidly, from a small founding team to thousands of people. Coordinating such an effort required aligning the entire team with set priorities. At no point was any team in the dark about what another group was doing, or what support needed.

As your startup team grows, don’t just trust communication will fall into place on its own, or that everyone assumes the same priorities. Create a communications plan, and check in frequently to ensure processes are running smoothly.

6. Recruit for attitude and fill your skills gaps

Responsibilities were delegated to people who didn’t know how to do things, and were expected to go find out how to do it – Howard Tindall, Mission Technique Coordinator

Delegating to people who don’t have experience may seem counterintuitive, but NASA actively encouraged this – the average age of the Operations team was 26, most fresh out of college. NASA gave someone a problem and the freedom to run with it, and the results speak for themselves. Do the same in your startup, give people the opportunity to grow.

7. Keep asking questions

The Apollo program was home to some of the most brilliant minds, and yet no one was shy about their mistakes. They made learning from their errors a central part of their process. Failure was simply an opportunity to learn and improve.

For a startup, get out of the building, talk to prospective customers and fail fast – validated learning and making retrospectives an ongoing part of your model, not one-time events, it is crucial to startup success.

8. Celebrate success as a team

We would like to give special thanks to all those Americans who built the spacecraft – the construction, design, the tests, and put their hearts and all their abilities into this. To those people tonight, we give a special thank you – Neil Armstrong, July 26 television broadcast from orbit.

At every opportunity the astronauts called the world’s attention to the efforts of their teammates back on the ground. So when you win that first customer as a startup, share that applause with the team.

Armstrong dared to dream. Life has its its twists and turns – he was nearly killed twice in his NASA training, but he never quit. Success is failure turned inside out, and you never can tell how close you are. He lived his life for a decade dedicated to training and preparation, absorbing the set backs as well as keeping his dream alive. Now whether you’ve launched a brick-and-mortar startup or mobile app, taking an idea into a product is a miraculous one. Fifty years on we’re reminded of the legacy left behind.

Armstrong had the true spirit of a pioneering entrepreneur, and Steve Blank has rewritten Kennedy’s Apollo vision, capturing Armstrong’s spirit: We choose to invest in ideas, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go, said poet T.S. Eliot, capturing everything about Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins that makes them true entrepreneurs. What a giant leap for mankind they made. Now go and make a giant leap for your startup.

Avoid a milkshaking from dissatisfied customers: adopt the Netflix way

The word ‘milkshake’ first appeared in 1885, as an eggnog-like drink made with whiskey. However, by the turn of the century, milkshakes were no longer alcoholic and were made with flavoured syrups, such as vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry.

The milkshake came into being as we know it – thick, creamy and chilled – in 1922, when Stephen Poplawski invented the blender, patenting a machine that reduced fruits and vegetables to a liquid. Later it inspired the invention of the bendy straw – by Joseph Friedman in 1937.

We all enjoy whizzing up a refreshing milkshake or smoothie. We’ve got indulgent chocolate, banana and strawberry flavoured shakes, plus healthy fruity shakes. However, my personal favourite is an Eton Mess freakshake. It’s my own signature recipe, a strawberry milkshake with a monster makeover – white chocolate and crushed meringues.

And then everything changed in 2019 when ‘throwing milkshakes’ emerged as a symbol of dissent. Milkshaking took off in Warrington in May, when a milkshake was thrown at Tommy Robinson, a notorious far-right activist. Videos went viral on social media under the hashtag #milkshake, drawing millions of views, and a phenomenon was born. Other far-right leaders enjoyed the same treatment, including Nigel Farage, subjected to a banana and salted caramel milkshaking. A good splattering.

Milkshaking concerns caused Scottish police to ask a local McDonalds near a subsequent Farage rally to cease selling milkshakes and ice cream. In true fast food rivalry, Burger King tweeted: Dear people of Scotland. We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK #justsaying.

Prior to this, Milkshakes were tossed at US president Donald Trump’s recent visit to the UK, and in June a woman in Florida hurled a shake at Matt Gaetz, a congressman known for making xenophobic remarks, in what seems to be the first case of American milkshaking.

Whilst milkshaking as a form of protest is new, the art of sticking it to politicians with perishable food is old school. The first documented case of food as protest took place in 63AD, when a Roman governor was bombarded with turnips. Cream pies became a popular protest in the 1970s, drawing inspiration from classic C20th slapstick comedies, including the films of Charlie Chaplin.

But in the history of protest foods, one stands above the rest: eggs. They’re cheap, widely available, and make a mess – ask David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn. Audiences have thrown anything and everything at stage performers to vent their ire – poisonous snakes, chairs and peanuts, while tomatoes took off in the C19th and subsequently inspired Rotten Tomatoes, one of the web’s most popular film review sites.

In post-war Greece, the practice of throwing plastic pots of tzatziki became so popular that the government introduced legislation to curb it. Law enforcers shaved the heads and cut the hems of the trousers of yogurt-wielding protesters who were caught, who were then marched through the streets as a form of public shaming.

Whether it’s milkshakes, cream pies, eggs, tomatoes or tzatziki, shows of passion or frustration from customers never get quite so extreme in business relationships. But sometimes, small changes have a big impact on how customers perceive the quality of your relationship and make the difference between loyalty and high churn rates.

According to research, it costs five times more to find a new customer than to retain a current customer.  In this age of automation, caring for your customers has never been more important.  At any moment, an unhappy customer can share their opinion through social media- or a milkshake! That’s why it’s even more important than ever to create an excellent experience for your customers to help develop your relationship with them into a lasting one.

Walt Disney said it best, Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. Creating a genuine relationship between your business and your customers can help scale positive word of mouth. Creating a customer-focused culture should be a priority. Most businesses are failing when it comes to the customer experience, which is your opportunity to swoop in and engage those disillusioned customers into switching.

If there is one business we can learn from regarding getting close to their customers and providing a knock-out experience it’s Netflix, the subscription-based entertainment streaming service that offers its users on-demand access to a vast library of films and TV shows, including original in-house productions that are not available elsewhere.

For a set monthly fee, Netflix customers can access the platform’s content on demand whenever and wherever, and build their own user profiles to receive bespoke-tailored viewing recommendations.  Netflix began as a DVD rental and sales service operating by mail order in 1997, but has evolved into the world’s most popular television streaming service, with over 137 million subscribers.

By 2005 Netflix had floated the idea of a brand-new concept to futureproof their business in the face of declining interest in mail order DVD rentals. Under the working title of ‘Netflix Box’, the concept was that users could download a film overnight to watch the next day. However, 2005 also saw the successful launch of YouTube streaming, which quickly reached a position of market dominance despite the then-low video quality of its offerings.

Netflix’s plans for Netflix Box were ultimately shelved, and they began to develop the original on-demand TV and movie streaming service that we know today. The addition of original content to the platform in 2011 helped to secure Netflix’s reputation as the go-to video streaming service worldwide.

Netflix puts the customer at the centre of their business model. Their market dominance is enabled and supported by audience insights and a high level of individual user personalisation that helps to ensure that people who subscribe to the platform keep coming back for more, and tell their friends.

The brand serves as one of the best examples of customer personalisation and content strategy you can find, so what can they teach us to help startups identify better prospects, reach more of them, and increase sales.

1. Let your work make your reputation Netflix relies heavily on content marketing rather than brand marketing. Letting your work speak for itself is one of the most powerful ways to build consumer loyalty and brand. This enables Netflix to make effective use of social media in spreading the word about a new show, or getting people talking about a relaunched classic.

2. Be original Netflix Originals make up a significant portion of the most-watched content, and the viewing preferences help to not only increase viewing figures for this, but inform the development of future productions too. If you can offer something novel or original that provides you with a USP, you will immediately gain a competitive edge.

3. Remove customer pain points Removing customer pain points is important to user experience, increasing customer loyalty and boosting sales. Netflix achieves this successfully in a number of ways: an initial no-commitment free trial month incentivises a risk-free initial sign-up; the sign-up process is simple, and not overly intrusive.

This initial month’s engagement often provides all of the information Netflix needs to secure an ongoing subscription sign-up by using the insights developed to personalise and incentivise the content offered.

4. Innovate Netflix is synonymous with innovation, and this continues to drive growth and the expansion of the platform to an ever-wider audience of viewers. The company has unleashed a download-and-go feature that allows users to watch shows offline, and this effort was followed up by a push to improve Netflix’s mobile experience, which is important as the company expands into foreign territories where people prefer to watch video on their phones.

5. Use smart data, not just personal data Knowing your audience, and collating the type of data about them that you need to translate it into useful content and experience, is vital. But besides the usual ‘hard’ data, Netflix takes into account the browser patterns and usage preferences of its users to provide the most personalised and relevant content and relationship.

6. Enable self-service Based on ur basic profile information, Netflix fine-tunes their understanding of your viewing preferences by inviting you to bookmark shows and express an interest in different genres. This results in personalised recommendations that you have self-curated, and thus tailored to appeal to you.

7. Focus on your USPs and make them work for you One of my favourite features of Netflix is that most series of shows are released in their entirety – you can watch a whole season straight through on the day it is released. This ‘binge watching’ is one of Netflix’s most defining USPs, and a large part of their appeal.

8. Build the brand The Netflix brand’s tone of voice is engaging, humorous and quick witted, and this helps to translate it across multiple platforms that viewers might use to find out more, or to make a decision on subscribing. The brand values are a function of all the attributes of their product outlined above – is your brand as closely linked to your customer offering and experience.

The Netflix model is ubiquitous and speaks for itself. They understand the power of their unique offerings and the value proposition to customers, but it’s putting the customer not the content at the centre of their business model, which creates and sustains brand loyalty.

Summary

By building up a comprehensive picture of your target customers and fine-tuning the content that you offer to them to create a highly personalised, dynamic user experience, you are able to predict their needs and negate pain points.

All startups can learn from the Netflix approach to innovation and delivering this to their customers. Applying these insights across other industries might seem ambitious, but such insights are highly scalable and relevant to virtually every sector.

Originating and delivering on unanticipated customer needs is true customer innovation. Rather than focus on customer satisfaction and providing a better product than the competition, aspire to long-term customer delight and pioneer new frontiers, with less competition.

There’s little chance of humiliating milkshakes being thrown from dissatisfied or protesting customers here. Netflix have transformed customer focus to customer obsession, so that they see the product through their eyes. So, leverage the Netflix way to knock out your competition and build your customer base. Then sit back and enjoy an Eton Mess freakshake.

Extracts from an article by Polly Kay on the competitive strategy of Netflix were used in this blog.

True grit: the dna of northern startups

Manchester was, and continues to be, the home of great free-traders and free-thinkers. It has a stunning C19th architectural heritage but today is a proud C21st European city of technology, science and education, with a clubbing scene second to none – or the Hallé Orchestra, if that gets your toes tapping more.

Manchester was the site of the world’s first railway station, the place where scientists first split the atom, and the home of the first stored-programme computer. Today, tech start-ups abound, there is enough shared workspace options for every woman and her dog, and internship students and apprentices with high ambitions for themselves have great opportunities.

The elements of Manchester’s well-being are based on long‑term deep-rooted social cohesion, personal resilience and sheer graft. Compare this to the imbalance with the south-east economy, with its reliance on foreign funds and an over-sized financial services sector.

So what is it about the north that has seen people pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and grab opportunity by the scruff of the neck to set up their own businesses? It certainly isn’t anything to do with government.

The Power Up the North campaign was launched in June in a co-ordinated effort from thirty northern regional newspapers, a demonstration of regional solidarity on an unprecedented scale. The united call was for the devolution of investment, powers to self-govern and for the north to make its own future. The campaign, led by The Manchester Evening News, The Yorkshire Post, The Liverpool Echo and The Northern Echo, called for the government to launch a revolution in how the North is viewed and treated by government.

In 1962, Harold Macmillan’s home secretary Henry Brooke warned that if the Government did not prevent two nations developing geographically – a poor north and a rich south – our successors will reproach us as we reproach the Victorians for complacency about slums and ugliness. On multiple metrics, the north fares worse than the south, a yawning imbalance on income, life expectancy, and spending on everything from culture to business.

Policy orthodoxy has assumed that investment in London would create a trickle-down effect, but in practice this has never happened, and the north-south divide in England remains Europe’s most regionally imbalanced country. Since austerity began, public spending in the North has fallen by £6.3bn, while spending in the South has risen by £3.2bn. A time-warp persists. It shouldn’t be cheaper and quicker to get from London to Paris than from London to Newcastle.

Faced with such stark disparities, Power Up The North calls for new economic, social and industrial strategies that are informed by an awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing the region – an independent north would be the ninth-largest economy in Europe. Both Scotland and Wales have smaller economies but enjoy far greater devolved powers.

Through its promotion of the Northern Powerhouse, David Cameron’s Government paid rhetorical tribute to the north of England. Yet the reality remains that the original vision for the Powerhouse of a joined-up market and labour force enabled by connectivity could not be further from the reality.

Cameron’s Northern Powerhouse legacy produced little more than a succession of bland ministers who knew little about the north, and cared even less. Today, the Northern Powerhouse minister does not have a budget, or a cabinet seat. How is the voice of the north to be heard at the top table? But this is not a sob story. Power Up The North offers a timely reminder that the future of our country does not begin and end at the M25.

I’m glad I am northern. I grew up with a coal bunker outside of the house and teenage years in pubs with chunky beer glasses with a handle. I miss that – the beer glasses with handles, not the coal-bunker. I was 17 before I caught sight of Euston Station. I had no need of London then and I guess it had no need of me. However, I do believe there is such a thing as a northern sensibility and it’s nothing to do with chips & gravy. It’s a grittiness that I think is behind the sheer determination of our startup communities.

The north has a dictionary and thesaurus of its own and its words are for everyone. As Paul Morley describes the north: warmth, decency, truth and proper beer, with a side order of menace, whilst T S Eliot noted Lancashire wit is mordant, ferocious, and personal.

When you’re northern, you’re northern forever, and you’re instilled with a certain feel for life that you can’t get rid of. Let me not become too misty-eyed, but there are places in which brass bands and allotments still thrive. There is still much about northern life that would make Orwell puff on his pipe and smile.

Of course, there are also town centres that have become desolate denizens of payday lenders, discount stores and kebab shops, and employment opportunities are desperate for many despite what The Bullingdon Boys would have you believe. However, the north scores highly for self-employment hot spots, an indication that people are willing to strive for prosperity under their own efforts, even if that’s a matter of necessity after paid employment has been lost.

With jubilant jeers from the Government benches and bold growth forecasts, the innate fire-in-the-belly entrepreneurial spirit that made northern cities great from the Victorian Era onwards is present today with renewed vigour and confidence. In the lexicon of media clichés, the north is always grim, but let’s accept that there is and will always be a North-South divide because the leverage of wealth towards the global-status of London is an irresistible force, but the northern enterprise culture never died, it just went into hibernation.

But what is missing is a recognition of the innate entrepreneurial and mercantile spirit that made the great northern cities in the first place, and that from my perspective living on the edge of the Pennines, quality of life and purpose derives from people, landscape and culture, rather than weight of money.

I’m fed up of working with some great entrepreneurs and founders based in the north who can’t raise funding for some amazing innovations, backed by talented teams, yet there are five new online food delivery startups raising £2m a week in London. Or so it seems. So stuff them I say. Let’s get some of the Wilson-Gretton-Hannett-Erasmus- Saville spirit from Factory Records and let’s crack on with the unknown pleasures of our own efforts.

Can you overcome setbacks, or do you get easily discouraged? Are you confident, or do you smell of insecurity? You can’t be thin skinned or faint hearted when you run your own show. You’ve got to have vision, stamina, creative thinking and, most of all, grit and resilience. Even when your friends and family think you’re nuts, there are fundamentals of being a self-starter to push yourself outside your comfort zone. Easier said than done.

I get to work with many incredibly gifted entrepreneurs, and I’ve noticed a common thread that connects them: grit and resilience. They’re all bravely owning who they are to push their business forward. They put in the hard yards to get there. It’s all too easy to let doubt fill your hearts and minds and create self-doubt that our dreams are too far-fetched or if we’re good enough, but grit and resilience – not other people’s money – gets them through.

Sometimes you have to give yourself a good pep talk: note to self. Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be; Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation. Never hope for it more than you work for it.

Grit trumps everything else. And it’s not just a north of England thing, research shows that it is one of the defining characteristics of successful start-up entrepreneurs. Psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research at Penn State University defines psychological grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Check out her TED talk here:

http://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit.html

Duckworth’s research focuses on two traits that predict success in life: grit and self-control. Grit is the tendency to sustain effort towards goals. On average, individuals who are gritty are more self-controlled, stay with their focus, and succeed.   She’s formulated a survey to determine your level of grittiness, see how you score: https://sasupenn.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_06f6QSOS2pZW9qR My ranking was 4.25, 85% on the True Grit dashboard. Not bad!

Grit has emerged as a significant indicator for success – even more than IQ, talent, and social intelligence. It’s the part of you that simply will not give up on your ideal future and works to figure out a path to get there. Many people lack this grit because they see life as a series of circumstances that happen to them rather than an ideal future that they can create.

Actor Will Smith talks a little differently about grit: The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things – you got it on me in nine categories. But if we get on the treadmill together, there are two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple.

Launching your own startup is like jumping off the cliff with no parachute, with no promise of a parachute. You need grit and mental toughness to manage your mind-set and emotions whilst you aim for that landing spot for your business.

Grit gives you the sheer will power and determination to keep going day after day, when the going gets tough. Sometimes it’s difficult to see progress, how can you keep your eyes on the prize and yet your head down during the inevitable slog period of anything worthwhile? You fall down seven times, but have to get up eight.

Grit, courage and the human spirit are at the heart of everything I believe in, and I see that in the northern entrepreneurial vibrancy. Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. Over time, grit is what separates fruitful lives from aimlessness, and imagine this: the north fully restored from its own efforts. That’s True Grit.

Jony Ive: how to respond when a rockstar exits your business

Jony Ive, the chief architect of ground-breaking and distinctive designs from the iMac to the iPhone, announced on Thursday that he is leaving Apple. Ive’s work seeded a tech revolution that has changed our lives. He was the key influencer on the simplistic designs of the most sought-after gadgets on the planet, curator and custodian of the Apple aesthetic. That aesthetic impulse dovetailed nicely with a business model based on frequent upgrades.

Ive’s mark is on everything Apple builds, from the airy, minimalist chic of its retail stores to seminal devices like the iPhone and iPad, newer pieces like the Apple Watch and the HomePod speaker – while Airpods look set to become another classic.

But Ive’s influence extended beyond hardware design. In 2012, he took over design of Apple’s software, which resulted in an overhaul of the iPhone’s operating system, iOS. Ive jettisoned the cutesy faux leather and paper icons and pseudo-3D textures, opting for flat and abstract iconography.

He has always sought to make things that aren’t just beautiful but are extremely functional too. He sees design about self-expression: the spark of a dialogue between inspiration and possibility; the idea sort of bashes backward and forward between a thought, a conversation, another drawing; it remains very fluid for quite a while.

Of the handful of companies that have defined C21st tech, only Apple sells its own hardware. It’s difficult to determine how much Ive’s physical designs contributed to Apple’s twenty-year growth, versus their software or marketing, but the look of the products is a big part of Apple’s brand. Ive was obsessed with the idea that the look and feel of a product was as important as the technology inside.

He gave Apple desirability. He stripped away layers of clunky technological design and created these incredible smooth shiny objects with rounded edges and fewer buttons. He applied the tradition of German modernism, which upheld the philosophy that less design was better, and simplicity was a desirable product attribute: the more you can reduce something, the more beautiful and functional it is. He created the ideal of a tech product, which was easy to use, beautiful and uncluttered.

Ive’s departure comes at a tricky moment for Apple, which became the world’s first trillion dollar company in 2018, but has faltered amid increased competition, slowing demand for smartphones, and the escalating trade war between the US and China. The company shocked investors in January when it downgrades sales forecasts.

The departure of Ive is the latest sign of major shifts in Apple’s strategy. Apple became one of the world’s most highly valued companies on the back of the iPhone, but sales of the device have begun to decline and it appears the age when hardware ruled everything has passed. Apple has begun openly discussing what’s next.

The most important thing is Apple’s culture of innovation. They are unbelievable in creating hardware, software and services, and getting them to work together. Increasingly, unifying the whole Apple experience over the individual product is showing up in their strategy. The biggest sign of change came in March when CEO Tim Cook discussed how the company was planning to launch a series of subscription services – Apple News Plus, Apple TV Plus, and Apple Arcade, a gaming service. There were no new hardware announcements.

Apple said that Ive’s role would be split, with Evans Hankey taking over industrial design and Alan Dye human interface design, reporting to COO Jeff Williams, an executive known for his operational skills, not his vision for product and design. The subtle demotion of the design group shows that Apple is emphasising its online services, the power of its components and how its products seamlessly work together, as opposed to their design. The design goal now is driving focus to the screen. A more distributed design decision-making process might be good for Apple.

Ive’s departure will not immediately impact. Apple still has talented designers, and the product planning process takes about three years, so it’ll be a while before we see the first products without Ive’s fingerprints on them.  Equally Ive’s departure may not hurt too much because of their new focus on streaming services. It’s not as if the iPhone and iPad, are going to see radical innovation anyhow, and these markets won’t see the sort of explosive growth of the past, thus there’s less need for a superstar hardware designer hanging around.

Although he’ll continue to work with Apple via his new design firm, where this leaves Apple and Ive with his new one-foot-in-one-foot-out job is unclear. Notwithstanding this, Ive leaves a yawning gap and is clearly irreplaceable as he has been one of the most important figures throughout the past few decades, his fingerprints are deeply woven within Apple’s core DNA. After the death of Job in 2011, it’s the most significant departure of somebody who was a core part of the growth story. Ive was Job’s co-founder of the second incarnation of Apple.

So how does Apple, or a startup, come to terms with the exit of a rockstar employee, or co-founder? The immediate concern is the impact on culture and loss of knowledge. Will this immediately have a downward spiral impact on the dynamics and confidence of the team, and their productivity? Here are some key steps to consider to address the issue.

Wish the former team member well privately and in public It’s not productive to be hurt or offended when someone leaves, on the other hand, you have everything to gain by parting on good terms. When a key team member leaves, understand and support the decision that’s right for him or her, thank them for their contribution, and wish them well. Do this privately and publically.

Maintain respect for the individual As a result of this approach, some of my best colleagues have returned to work with me, whilst others have become advocates. People leave for all sorts of reasons, many, if not most, of which will have nothing to do with you or your company, and everything to do with the life circumstances of the team member.

Be open and honest with your people The business need the straight story, authenticity in the face of what on the face of it is ‘bad news’, is what builds trust. It’s also important to be candid with your employees. Be clear that the departure is unwanted, change is unavoidable, but we have a solution to make it through the turbulence.

Move quickly to stop any false rumours, but don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. If losing this team member is a big blow for you, tell them. Move on from the negative emotion of the moment by sharing your feelings, and see the challenge as an opportunity as a result.

Think it through, but do it quickly Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When you get big news, you have to make big plans, and fast. Don’t get bogged down by emotion and stall from thinking about the next steps. Folk in the business don’t immediately need to see a plan, but they do need to know there will be a plan, and quick.

Ask your inner team for help Your team wants to help, they want to come together to overcome this challenge. You don’t have to take this on by yourself. It’s OK to say I’m really sad to be losing Jo, and it’s going to be tough to get through the next few months without her. I’ll need your help to explore all the options and come up with a plan by the end of the week. Show that you’re open to input for your proposed plan.

Build consensus around a plan, and implement it Many startup leaders fall into the trap of thinking they need to express boundless enthusiasm and confidence at all times, and always have a plan. If you come up with a plan by yourself and simply tell everyone else what it is, you’ll have less committed buy in.

Gather ideas from your team and let them create the plan with you. Focus on turning a negative into a positive. Ask for their input on how this situation provides an opportunity to do things better. As your team feels ownership, they’ll be more involved in overcoming the challenges posed by the loss of the team member.

Don’t assume you must instantly replace My preference is always to promote from within if possible, but now is the time to stay calm and think, not leap into a quick, knee jerk reaction. As the enterprise evolves, it’s imperative that you take time to evaluate the future options now available on role, skills and structure – a potential new hire could help the company with their new skills or fresh perspective – and only then determine how the role should be defined, who should fill it, and when. It’s better to make the right decision than a fast decision.

Discover your team’s hidden strengths A team may already have the resources it needs to still be successful, it may simply require some creativity and a return to basics. What talents have been hidden or lying dormant? What skills have never been shared or developed? Losing a star performer may provide a way to better engage and retain others.

See this as an opportunity for skills development and growth Every person has an inner drive to grow and develop, instead of viewing the loss as a vacuum in the business, reframe the situation as an opportunity to upskill the current team to a new level.

Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, the Jagger and Richards of Apple. Despite my thoughts on how to respond above, it’s impossible to see the company not stumbling now it’s without the most creative partnership in recent business history.

Both looked to the horizon beyond the day-to day, wanting to wrestle with the big things that made a difference. Both were relentlessly curious, fixated on following through until satisfied with the outcome, restless to a point of perfection.

With hardware getting harder, the focus of technological innovation has shifted to machine learning-based software running on cloud based servers, rather than individual devices. In smart homes, cars and wearable devices, increasingly the battlefield for tech giants like Apple, Google and Amazon, voice interfaces are more central than the tactile-visual interfaces Ive excelled in.

No wonder, then, Ive picked this moment to step away. His new firm, LoveFrom, will have Apple as a client, but Apple no longer needs him like it did. Once Ive stopped being essential, per his own paramount rule, it was time for him to disappear.

But the man who started his career by designing toilets and toothbrushes and ended up giving us the most profitable product in history is assured of his legacy. How Apple move forward with their strategy without his influence is a challenge many organisations face when they lose their own rockstar. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

Innovation leadership from Hugh Iorys Hughes

The sea, beaches and messing about in boats, have been a part of my life since childhood, including a near-miss drowning in Wales when I was ten. I have a fascination with lighthouses too, their perilous location, the history, the bravery and exploits of the keepers.

I am now lucky enough to live really near the sea and one of my favourite things to do is to watch the sunset from Deganwy over to the beach at Conwy and Anglesey, where family holidays as a child remain a clear memory, and the Brookes family originates from.

Part of the Conwy beach is known as ‘The Morfa’ and was the location of the construction of floating Mulberry Harbours, which played a key role in the D-Day landings, of which we recently celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary. It was a local man, Hugh Iorys Hughes, who led the innovation and development of the Mulberrys, used to offload supplies onto the beaches during the Allied ‘Operation Overlord’ on 6 June 1944.

Winston Churchill’s famous memo ‘Piers For Use On Beaches’ of May 1942, issued two years before the D-Day landings to Admiral Mountbatten, sought a solution to the challenge of landing on the beaches: Piers for use on beaches. They must float up and down with the tide. The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution worked out. Don’t argue the matter. The difficulties will argue for themselves.

Hughes was born and educated in Bangor before gaining a First Class Honours degree in engineering at Sheffield University. He was from a family of keen sailors and often raced on the Menai Strait with his father and two brothers. After graduating, he established himself as a civil engineer in London. One of his early works was the design for the dry dock that berthed the Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

In response to Churchill’s request, Hughes sent his idea and drawings to the War Office but his initiative wasn’t taken up until his brother Sior Hughes, a Commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, impressed the scheme on a senior colleague and the idea was reconsidered.

In June 1942, Hughes was one of several engineers asked to produce plans for a floating harbour that could be towed to Normandy and installed on the shallow beaches. Hughes worked tirelessly on his vision. Prototypes were built and launched at the estuary of the River Conwy and Irish Sea, which he knew to be suitable from his time sailing along the North Wales coast.

With the initial prototypes a success, in October 1942, construction of three concrete caissons with steel towers (code named ‘Hippo’) and two steel bridging road units (code named ‘Croc’) commenced at the Conwy Morfa. Astonishingly, even with around 1,000 men on site, the work remained secret.

By May 1943, the gigantic constructs were ready and were towed to Garlieston, Scotland for full-scale sea trials, along with other designs. The plan for the Mulberry Harbours was now coming together. In the final decision, the Hippos and Crocs were not used on D-Day, however, part of the final design was taken from Hughes’ Hippos to form the floating pontoons, called Phoenix Caissons, and his Mulberry Harbours were also used.

Disguised as a French fisherman, Hughes made several visits to Normandy to take soundings and record tidal movements. He also developed methods for towing, sinking and anchoring the Caissons, and he helped with installation in June 1944. His role and innovation behind the D-Day project was disclosed to Parliament on 21 December 1944.

The final construction process was one of the biggest civil engineering efforts of the war. It involved 40,000 men constructing 212 caissons, 23 pierheads and ten miles of floating roadway. Two Mulberry harbours, built at Conwy, were towed across the Channel in prefabricated sections and used as breakwaters at Arromanches on the British ‘Gold’ beach, and on the American ‘Omaha’ beach.

At the Nuremberg Trials, Albert Speer, Nazi minister of armaments, was forced to admit that the Germans’ efforts in Northern France had been ‘brought to nothing because of an idea of simple genius’. The makeshift floating harbour was one of the greatest military achievements of all time.

Hughes died in 1977, and his ashes were spread in the Menai Straits. His former family house in Bangor is now part of the University, and has a Blue Plaque in his honour. There is also a plaque to his memory in the museum at Arromanches. A memorial stone and plaque commemorates the work of the people who worked on the Mulberry project on Conwy Morfa.

The Mulberry Harbours were a vital innovation, contributing to the success of the D-Day Landings allowing thousands of tonnes of vehicles and goods to be put ashore in Normandy. Hughes’ invention was an amazing feat, where ingenuity and the need for radical new thinking to face the challenge was needed, a ‘can do’ spirit in the face of adversity.

Today’s innovations are developed in less demanding environments and in response to less troublesome circumstances, with ‘innovation labs’ housing dedicated teams and resources curating new thinking. Hughes’ bold experiments were in a time of real crisis and emergency, but it’s not unusual for innovation to be stimulated in times of hardship.

The Great Depression of the 1930s saw several successful companies that did not delay investment in their future. One was DuPont. In April 1930, Wallace Carothers, a research scientist, recorded the initial discovery of neoprene (synthetic rubber). At the time, DuPont were suffering financially. However, maintaining a long-term view on their strategy, DuPont boosted R&D spending.

Neoprene, which DuPont publicly announced in November 1931 and introduced commercially in 1937, became a major C20th innovation. By 1939, every car and plane manufactured in the United States had neoprene components. Similarly, DuPont discovered nylon in 1934 and introduced it in 1938 after intensive product development.

When Henry Ford’s first Model T rolled off the assembly line, listening to music in the car meant the passengers were singing. At the time, two brothers, Paul and Joseph Galvin, who had started Chicago’s Galvin Manufacturing to sell electric converters for battery-operated radios, needed new revenue after the Wall Street Crash.

By teaming up with William Lear, who owned a radio parts company in the same factory building, and audio engineer Elmer Wavering, they installed the first car radio in May 1930. The next month, Paul drove 800 miles to a radio manufacturers’ convention in Atlantic City. Lacking a booth inside, he parked his car near a pier and cranked up the radio, coaxing attendees to look and listen. Orders began flowing in. In 1933, Ford began offering factory-installed radios from the brothers, and Galvin Manufacturing changed its name to Motorola.

Thus although crises are destructive, they can also have an upside. Economist Joseph Schumpeter emphasised the positive consequences of crises, and that’s because adversity breeds innovation as ‘a mother of necessity’. Facing difficulty is a time when people’s best emerges. Facing adversity has a way of summoning strength and resolve like no other set of circumstances.

In a crisis, startups frequently struggle to find the right balance between caution and optimism. No one knows what will happen next, and it is crazy to operate your business as though you do. But the more volatile the times, the more essential it is to keep your options open. Thus, taking less risk (closing down innovation options) is actually more dangerous than investing to preserve a number of future-focused options.

Creativity loves constraints, so think of an economic downturn or a setback as a ’reset”, spurred by hard times it’s a chance to start over. And it’s not just ‘hard times’ that create these conditions, Seth Godin coined the term ‘Forever Recession’, suggesting that apart from the cyclical recessions that inevitably come and go, we are living in a continuous state of crisis as businesses are challenged by constant disruption and a fast-changing economy, and that can be a very good thing because it forces us to change and adapt faster.

In short, as shown by Hugh Iorys Hughes, crisis can inspire us to be more innovative and productive, so what can we learn from his exploits in developing the floating harbours to take into our C21st business innovation thinking?

Drive the innovation agenda Truly successful innovation efforts start at the top. Startup founders’ vision must continue to drive the innovation agenda during and through any dip in fortunes. Rather than easing back on innovation, a relentless pursuit of the vision energised by the founder is needed to ensure success. Hughes did just that in 1944, leading 1,000 men on the Conwy Morfa in pursuit of a vision that helped change the outcome of the war.

Innovate with purpose When facing a crisis, startups need to prioritise their investment in a way that moves beyond just profitability and centres on its core purpose. Simon Sinek’s classis ‘What is your why?’ comes to mind here, having a sense of purpose and aspiration beyond your day-to-day commercial mission makes a company more innovative and more able to disrupt or respond to disruption.

Be ruthless in prioritising Hughes had a clear focus and had to be strategic, whilst also experimenting to build and test a series of prototypes. When resources are scarce, avoid ‘walking dead’ projects and be ruthless when it comes to making decisions on when to pull the plug.

Hughes would have been asking key questions such as How much risk remains? What’s the time needed to get to the next stage? What is the true cost of the next round of tests and what learning will they provide?

Startup innovation isn’t just about creativity and generating new ideas, it’s about aligning innovation with strategy. Avoid the temptation to prioritise short-term efforts that promise immediate payback over longer-term efforts with more questionable returns. Potential rather than performance alone is the right guide for innovation decisions.

Focus on ‘adjacency innovation’ In a crisis, operating with finite resource and under time pressure to deliver an outcome, business leaders must figure out how to do more with less. Rather than make big bets on a single, radical innovation, consider allocating resources to ‘adjacency innovations’, which can be less risky but still generate good pay-offs. Hughes did this on the Morfa, exploring three potential floating harbour designs simultaneously.

Be bold Make sure your innovation strategy includes building and testing scenarios that elicit unstated and as-yet-unrecognised potential in the near and long term. Use the insights for learning. In short, make sure you are a problem solver in tough times – which is exactly what Hughes was.

Hughes showed that innovation thrives when faced with no other choice, proving that necessity truly is the mother of innovation. When faced with challenges, it’s human nature to want to hunker down and just protect the nest. But instead, strike out with vigour, audacious thinking and be intrepid.

Today is the age of rapid technology-led disruption, but it’s only just kicking in, and as a result, ‘crisis’ will become a more common occurrence for organisations.  It’s essential that innovation leaders respond positively and are more flexible, responsive and socially oriented.

Some may view this is an insurmountable challenge, but I see it as an opportunity to take a lesson from the heart and mind of Hugh Iorys Hughes. Be an emboldened innovation thinker, and make your mark where and when it’s needed most.

Be remarkable. Be a Purple Cow.

Last week Radiohead issued a vast collection (1.8 gigabytes) of unreleased tracks from the sessions for their 1997 album OK Computer, after a MiniDisc archive owned by frontman Thom Yorke was hacked, and were reportedly asked for a $150,000 ransom to return the recordings.

Instead of paying the ransom, the band made eighteen MiniDisc recordings, most of them around an hour in length, available on Bandcamp for £18. All proceeds will go to climate activists Extinction Rebellion.

Frontman Thom Yorke described the hours of recordings as not very interesting, and guitarist Jonny Greenwood – who confirmed the hack via Twitter – said: Never intended for public consumption it’s only tangentially interesting, and very, very long. Not a phone download. Rainy out, isn’t it, though?

Yorke and Greenwood are absolutely wrong: the files are a treasure trove. Frankly, a look behind the curtain of one of the most innovative albums of a generation is priceless.  This hoard of private material is an illuminating chronicle of a band reinventing the mainstream. The eighteen tracks have been documented in a Google Doc by fans. If anyone understands the dynamics of content, innovation and the internet, it’s Radiohead.

Radiohead is an English band formed in Oxford in 1985 by five school friends. Initially the band were called On a Friday, the name referring to the band’s usual rehearsal day in the school’s music room. In late 1991, after a chance meeting between band member Colin Greenwood and EMI’s A&R representative at Our Price, the record shop where Greenwood worked, they signed a six-album recording contract with EMI. At the request of EMI, the band changed their name – Radiohead was taken from the song Radio Head on the Talking Heads album, True Stories.

Since their formation, Radiohead have been lyrically and musically spearheaded by Thom Yorke, the essential spark of innovation in the band. Yorke’s somnambulant ramblings and markedly individualistic performances cutting a strangely solitary figure, making him look like a man in the throes of a tortuous titanic confidence crisis. It’s all there in the songs, spooked, soul-baring millennial masterpieces. Yorke’s vocals trail through atmospherics with angst and despair of a tortured performer.

Radiohead are in many ways the Rolling Stones of Gen Y but without the ostentatious commerciality driven by a marketing machine. They are a serious band that make serious music, a touchstone for adventurous music, yet you have to actively listen to the music and the lyrics, they have meaning.

Just like Joy Division, they are seen by many as morose, gloomy harbingers of doom and introspective sensibilities, purporting monochrome view of the world. Not everyone’s cup of tea but for me there are toe tapping and sing-a-long moments a plenty. Something about Radiohead inspires a disorienting kind of hope.

What Radiohead did to counter the hack was remarkable. It reminded me of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, the concept that you’re either remarkable or invisible. In a world that grows noisier by the day, Godin’s challenge has never been more relevant.

Godin evolves the traditional ‘4Ps’ marketing thinking with a new P – the Purple Cow. He identified this when he was with his family driving through France and were enchanted by the hundreds of cows grazing on picturesque pastures. For dozens of kilometres, we gazed out the window, marvelling about how beautiful everything was. Then, within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what once was amazing was now common.

Worse than common. It was boring. Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, brown or black cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring. A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting.

On a long car drive you may see some cows on a hill, and see many more as the hours pass. Brown cow. Brown cow. Black Cow. Black Cow. There’s nothing remarkable about them, they pretty much look the same. But if you spotted a purple cow, then wow, that would be remarkable. You’d sit up in your seat and take notice; you might even pull the car over, let the kids out, take some pictures and share them with friends on Social Media.

Godin’s book came out in 2003, before the first iPhone, however, it is almost like Steve Jobs took everything Godin mentions in his book and put it into creating the iPhone. The iPhone succeeded wildly as a product everyone wants, and it stood out like a Purple Cow in the field of normal phones.

Tesla, Uber, Airbnb are all Purple Cows. As is Paypal. Banking is probably one of the hardest industry of all to try to disrupt, because the barriers to entry are huge – you need mountains of capital, regulatory approval, and years of building trust with your customers.

Banks’ business models are largely unchanged in hundreds of years, and they’re insanely powerful and almost impossible to displace – as we’re seeing with the Challenger Banks and Open Banking initiatives still to truly disrupt their business model – but for some crazy reason PayPal didn’t seem to care, and became remarkable.

Look at their Purple Cow attributes:

  • PayPal spends less money on technology than even a medium sized bank does. Yet its technology platform is far superior.
  • Consumers trust PayPal as much if not more than they trust their bank. Even though PayPal has been around for a fraction of the time.
  • When a customer buys with their PayPal account, the bank has no clue what the customer actually bought. The transaction appears on the bank statement as ‘PayPal’. That gives PayPal all the power when it comes to data mining.
  • PayPal is quicker to market with just about any kind of payment innovation going.
  • PayPal refuses to partner directly with banks – instead opting to partner with retailers directly.

In a small period of time, PayPal inserted itself as a whole new method of payment to become a real alternative to debit or credit cards. But how did it manage to do it? There are two huge pillars of success to PayPal’s story.

They seized the moment. They got a lucky break when they ‘accidentally’ became the favoured payment provider for eBay transactions. This was followed a few years later by their $1.5bn acquisition by eBay themselves. eBay were smart enough to leave them alone, and their newfound sense of boldness saw them strike a series of deals with other online retailers to try and replicate the success they’d had with eBay.

The second pillar of their success was Partnerships. Banks had always been wary about forming partnerships directly with retailers, instead they relied on their scheme partners Visa/MasterCard to do that for them. They didn’t want the hassle of managing so many different relationships, and were extremely confident about the fact that credit and debit cards would always be at the heart of the financial payment system.

But the problem was that MasterCard themselves were already working on a partnership with PayPal, leaving the banks out in the cold. Today, PayPal has 20% market share of online payments in the US, and 63% of the eWallet space. Almost all of that growth has come from their direct relationships with merchants large and small.

Paypal is a Purple Cow. Making something remarkable means asking new questions and trying new practices, doing the unexpected and creating an offering that is genuinely innovative. Godin identifies some key traits of Purple Cows, for example:

Get into the habit of doing the unsafe thing. Remarkable isn’t always about changing the biggest machine in your factory, it’s about being bold and every time you have the opportunity to see what’s working and what’s not. It’s safer to be risky. Use this mindset to go for the truly amazing moon-shot things.

Explore the limits with early adopters. What if you’re the cheapest, the fastest, the slowest, the hottest, the coldest, the easiest, the most efficient, the loudest, the most hated, the copycat, the outsider, the hardest, the oldest, the newest, or just the most? If there’s a limit, you must test it. The early adopters heavily influence the rest of the curve, so persuading them is worth far more than wasting time and effort trying to persuade anyone else.

Target a niche. The way you break through to the mainstream is to target a niche instead of a huge market. With a niche, you can segment off a chunk of the mainstream, and create an ideavirus so focused that it overwhelms that small slice of the market that really and truly will respond to what you offer. The market is small enough that a few wins can get you to the critical mass you need to create an ideavirus.

Think small. One vestige of the social media explosion is a need to think mass. If it doesn’t appeal to everyone, the thinking goes, it’s not worth it. No longer. Think of the smallest conceivable market and describe a product that overwhelms it with its remarkability. Be remarkable by being curated.

Differentiate your customers. From the above two points, find the market segment that wants your product and ‘own your market’. Within this, find the group that’s most likely to influence other customers – cater to the customers you would choose if you could choose your customers. Have the insight and guts to craft a Purple Cow product/service offering that gets the right people to seek them out.

Find things that are ‘just not done’ in your industry. And then go ahead and do them. Ask ‘Why not?’ – almost everything you do is the result of fear or inertia or a historical lack of someone asking, ‘Why?’ Uber and Airbnb did just that, and what about Tesla – who gave away their IP of their electric batteries.

If you’re remarkable, then it’s likely that some people won’t like you. That’s part of the definition of remarkable. The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed. Criticism comes to those who stand out.

Playing it safe. Following the rules. They seem like the best ways to avoid failure. Alas, that pattern is a dangerous and mistaken fallacy. In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible. Boring is always the riskiest strategy. Startups realise this and work to reduce the risk from the process. They know that sometimes it’s not going to work, but they accept the fact that that’s okay, as ultimately, chewing your own cud leads to being remarkable.

Understand the urgency of the situation. Half-measures simply won’t do. Being noticed is not the same as being remarkable. Running down the street naked will get you noticed, but it won’t accomplish much. It’s easy to pull off a stunt, but not useful. Extremism in the pursuit of remarkability is no sin. In fact, it’s practically a requirement. Remarkability lies in the edges. It doesn’t always matter which edge, more that you’re at (or beyond) the edge.

Part of what it takes to do something remarkable is to do something first and best. Roger Bannister was remarkable. The next guy, the guy who broke Bannister’s record wasn’t. He was just faster, but it didn’t matter.

Godin challenges us to be a Purple Cow, crafting something truly exceptional in everything we create or do. Like the Radiohead reaction to being hacked, like Tesla giving away their IP and PayPal did in challenging the status quo, be unexpected, be innovative, standout from the crowd, make people stop in their tracks and think. Be remarkable.

George Mallory’s entrepreneurial motivation: because it’s there

A photo captured last week by Nepali mountaineer Nirmal Purja Magar showed a near continuous line of hundreds of climbers bottlenecked on the summit ridge of Everest, all trying to take advantage of a narrow window of good weather, tantalizingly close to the top of the world.

The 2019 climbing season on Mount Everest, which just came to an end, was a record setter, more climbers summited (825) than ever before, but it was also notable in a grimmer regard: at least eleven climbers died, the most in four years. Nirmal’s image went viral, sparking a debate about whether the high number of casualties was due to too many climbers.

Eleven fatalities is far from a record, but previous years’ high death tolls can be attributed to unforeseeable accidents, like the 2014 avalanche that killed sixteen climbers, or the 2015 avalanche that killed nineteen. This year, only two fatalities can be attributed to falls; the rest have been reported as edema, exposure and exhaustion, suggesting that too many climbers are spending too much time near the summit, a place where strength and mental faculties quickly fade, leaving too few resources for the dangerous trip down.

It’s less the climbing than the altitude, climbers are not climbing beyond their ability but instead beyond their altitude ability. Unfortunately it is difficult to get experience of what it is like climbing above Camp 3 (8,300m) without climbing Everest. Climbers invariably do not know what their ability above 8,300m is going to be like. In Everest’s ‘death zone’ above 8,000m, the lack of oxygen can cause high-altitude pulmonary edema, in which fluid floods the lungs, or high-altitude cerebral edema, which causes the brain to swell, even leading to high-altitude psychosis.

But to put things in perspective, the risk of death on Everest can be overstated. The death rate of those who climb above Base Camp is less than 1%.

The grand prize of mountain climbing is Everest, for obvious reasons. It’s not the most difficult or dangerous mountain, but it invites the adventurous to stand at the peak of the world. It’s the spot closest the sun, moon, and stars, the ultimate junction of earth and sky, with the ultimate panoramic horizon. It allows the brave to revel above the clouds, look upwards into the void and leave the earth behind. This is what drives people to risk physical exhaustion, dehydration, even death.

Mount Everest was first recorded in the Atlas of the Whole Imperial Territory as Qomolangma, its traditional Tibetan name, in 1719. It was discovered to be the world’s tallest mountain in 1856 and named after George Everest, head of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.

It was in 1924 that George Mallory and Andrew Irvine got near – or perhaps reached – the summit on a third attempt, but never make it back down. Mallory’s body was found at 27,000 feet in 1999. It then wasn’t until 1953 when Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary reached the summit to officially claim the recognition of first to conquer the peak.

My fascination with the mountain and Mallory began when I was a teenager staying at my grandmother’s house in North Wales when I came across an epic story of mountaineering: The Fight for Everest, the account of George Mallory and Andrew Irvine’s 1924 expedition, when they disappeared neat the summit, giving rise to folklore as to whether they had reached the top of the world.

I was staying with her in the summer before I went to university, doing odd jobs, perched up ladders with a paint brush in return for an endless supply of home made pies and scones. We went to the local market, and as with a habit of a lifetime, I made a beeline for the second-hand bookstall.

I managed to scramble four books about exploration, adventure and mountaineering – and my affinity with Amundsen, Scott, Mawson, Nansen, Hilary, Herzog, Compagnoni and Lacedelli, Shackleton and Mallory began.

I started to read The Fight for Everest. I already knew some of the details, but its black-and-white photographs and its fold-out maps captured my imagination. As I read, I was carried away to the Himalayas. The images rushed over me, I could see the distant white peaks, snow storms approaching and the climbers reaching up the ice-walls on the North Col, scaling with ropes, the oxygen masks on their backs making them look like scuba divers.

Some 40 years on, I have still marked the passage of the book that etched an enduring memory, the description by Noel Odell, the expedition geologist, of his last sighting of Mallory and Irvine, some 800 vertical feet from the summit on June 9, 1924:

There was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere above me, and I saw the whole summit ridge and final peak of Everest unveiled. I noticed far away on a snow slope leading up to what seemed to me to be the last step but one from the base of the final pyramid, a tiny object moving and approaching the rock step. A second object followed, and then the first climbed to the top of the step. As I stood intently watching this dramatic appearance, the scene became enveloped in cloud…

Over and over I read that passage, and I wanted nothing more than to be one of those two tiny dots, fighting for survival in the thin, icy air, unfazed by adversity. That was it. I lived intensely with and through these explorers, spending evenings with them in their tents, thawing pemmican hoosh.

No evidence, apart from this testimony, has been found that they climbed higher than the First Step (one of three final physical stages to the summit) as their spent oxygen cylinders were found shortly below the First Step, and Irvine’s ice axe was found nearby in 1933. They never returned to their camp and died high on Everest.

On 1 May 1999, a frozen body was found at 26,760 ft. on the north face of the mountain. Name tags on the body’s clothing bore the name of G. Leigh Mallory. No subsequent searches have found either Irvine or a Kodak camera, known to be in their possession, which could hold the answer as to whether they were on the top of the world 30 years before Hilary.

Mallory carried a photograph of his wife, which he was going to leave at the summit. When his body was discovered, the photograph was missing and it could have been left at the summit. Whether it will ever be proven that he reached the top or not, he certainly had climbed to an altitude of at least 28,000 feet in 1924 with clothing and equipment far inferior to what is available today, a remarkable feat.

Mallory took part in the first three British expeditions to Everest in the early 1920s, joining the 1924 Everest expedition believing that at 37, it would be his third and last opportunity to climb the mountain. Mallory’s grandson, also named George Mallory, reached the summit of Everest in 1995. He left a picture of his grandparents at the summit citing unfinished business.

Only a fraction of people have ever exalted in that experience and lived to say: I climbed Mount Everest. But for Mallory, this was not recreation or physical challenge, that was not what he sought – he pursued the pure adventure of climbing. It was Mallory with the famous aphorism that, to this day, best summarises the avid climber’s pursuit, quoted as having replied to the question Why do you want to climb Mount Everest? with the retort Because it’s there. These have often been called ‘the most famous three words in mountaineering’.

I’ve kept Mallory’s retort in my head for many years, as did President Kennedy, who quoted Mallory in his speech announcing the NASA programme in 1962, and his own words with the same sentiment of ambition: We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

As Mallory said in one of his final interviews, when trying to explain why he’s climbing Everest, I have dreamt since I was a boy of standing atop this mountain, and it’s worth it to risk your life to make a dream come true.

Mallory is one of our last great explorers and one of the greatest truly ambitious men. Remember this was the 1920s, Mallory had to hike through miles of Nepalese jungle without a map – this was all uncharted. He hadn’t even seen Everest until he arrived there, and yet from the second he heard the idea he never hesitated. He is so revered that the ice-wall on the North Col which must be climbed for all who summit Everest via the North Route is named after him, the Mallory Step.

Mallory epitomises unwavering entrepreneurial ambition and the attitude to succeed. He had focus and clarity on his goals, and a tenacious will-to-win, qualities needed to be an entrepreneur. Starting and running a business is a lot like climbing a mountain for the first time, look at the similarities:

Inner drive Entrepreneurs are driven to succeed and grow. They see the bigger picture, set massive goals and stay committed to achieving them regardless of challenges that arise. Mallory had this in abundance.

Strong self-belief Entrepreneurs often have a strong and assertive personality, focused and determined to achieve their goals and believe completely in their ability to achieve them. Mallory has the same inner confidence.

Search for innovation Mallory had a passionate desire to be the first man on Everest, just as entrepreneurs look to bring new ideas to market. They are pioneers too, in their aspirations and approach to the task and opportunity before them.

Competitive by nature Successful entrepreneurs thrive on competition. The only way to reach their goals and live up to their self-imposed high standards is to be the best they can be. Mallory’s wasn’t competitive with other climbers – but with himself and the mountain before him.

Highly motivated and energised Mallory was always on the go, full of energy and highly motivated. Entrepreneurs have a similar high work ethic, restless and always trying to get to where they want to get.

Accepting of obstacles Entrepreneurs are on the front line and hear the words it’s never been done, it can’t be done as opportunity. They readjust their path, obstacles are an expected part of the journey. Everest was both a physical and mental obstacle in Mallory’s journey.

Sometimes if you haven’t got your head up from the startup grind for a while, your vision can get cloudy. Mallory’s story and attitude reminds me that there’s a purpose and a reason for your dedication, discipline and hard work. Do stuff because it matters, for the purpose of a creating a story to tell that what you’ve done matters, and that it made a difference. It’s because the challenge exists, it’s because it’s there.

Don’t get lost in startup life’s busy shuffle and the noise. Remember those three words: Because It’s There, the drivers of George Mallory, possibly the first man to reach the summit of Everest. Mallory reminds me – as he did Kennedy – not just ‘do things’, but to do them with a passion and a purpose bigger than ‘just turning up’. Make it count, where it matters, for yourself.