Startups 1-2-3-4 Go!

The Clash, the eponymous self-titled debut album by The Clash, was released 40 years ago last week, on 8 April 1977. How time passes by. It is widely celebrated as one of the greatest punk albums of all time, and one of the best debut albums. It was a record that made you sit up and take notice. It set the template for punk with its sharp shock songs full of passion and angry lyrics that were snapshots of the UK’s decay at the time.

The songs are short and intense, the speed-freaked brain of punk set to the tinniest, most frantic guitars trapped on vinyl. Rich in social commentary, attacking the fraught political and economic climate at the time, the collection of fifteen songs was unusually musically varied for a punk band, with reggae and early rock and roll influences plainly evident.

Despite all the hoopla over the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, a generation of disenfranchised, angry youth faced a grim reality of a dystopian future. In the latter 1970s, punk was the soundtrack for this alienated rage, an anti-establishment outreach of raucous, haywire impulses. Yet it remains timelessly inspiring. If you’ve never listened to this album, put it on your 100 albums to listen to before I go to heaven list.

Like a business startup, the Clash had raw energy, raw ideas and an attitude to take everything and everyone on. The classic line up which emerged from the creative tension of forming a band – Strummer-Jones-Simonon-Headon – made their mark. Each member brought a different influence, whether it was Joe’s folk lyricism, Mick’s rock adulation, Paul’s Brixton-born reggae, or Topper’s driving percussion, what you got was a unique blend.

Most of the first album was conceived on the 18th floor of a council high rise on London’s Harrow Road, in a flat rented by co-founder Mick Jones’ grandmother, who frequently went to see their live concerts. The songs were written over a twelve-day period, three four-day sessions Thursday-to-Sunday, beginning 10 February 1977, and recorded over three consecutive weekends at a cost of £3k.

The cover artwork was designed by Polish artist Rosław Szaybo, the album’s front cover photo, shot by Kate Simon, taken in the alleyway opposite the front door of the band’s ‘Rehearsal Rehearsals’ building in Camden Market. The picture of the charging police on the rear cover, shot by Rocco Macauly, was taken during the August 1976 riot at the Notting Hill Carnival – the inspiration for the track White Riot, their debut single.

The Clash wanted a riot of their own, and so they created one, not in the streets with bricks and bottles but on stage and in the studio with guitars and words. It may be an old fashioned thought now that a record can change the world, but it did and still stands up to this day as a brilliant document of the turbulent times, a luminous and revolutionary record.

I bought the record (one of those shiny vinyl things) and still have it close to hand to this day. It’s battered and scratched, the sleeve torn and frayed, but it’s a key part of my personal social history, but history relevant to now some 40 years on.

It was a platform to challenge prejudice, both without and within, that we could dance to, or jump about to. The first thing I ever liked about The Clash before I had even heard a tune was their name. In those heady days of mid-teens at parties of school mates, The Clash’s debut album was played over and over again. I recall one in particular as we all pogoed in the front room, every word to every song was sung as if our lives depended on it. The neighbours called the police because of the noise. This was a band capturing the moment. So were we.

Today, The Clash, their story and output, remains one of the most important signposts of my formative years. For five years, their lyrics, politicised and bristling with social conscience, had a far-reaching and ultimately enduring influence. They caught my ear and imagination, their mixture of politics and music shaped my beliefs and tastes.

Their musical experimentation and rebellious attitude was utterly inspirational and positive. For me, there remains a sense of urgency and anarchic inventiveness in their songs that roots them in the great musical moments of the late C20th. The songs more than stand the test of time, reminding you that music should speak to the politics, opinions and issues of society of the day.

So, I must admit, I still harbour a bit of attitude when it comes to Joe Strummer and company. A debut album like a stick of dynamite, it had heart and soul. I immediately got their vibe and saw their potential to speak to people. If you were lucky enough to see them, I don’t think you ever forgot it.

As I get older, it’s hard to separate songs from the memories we associate with them. People and places we used to know suddenly come rushing back with tremendous clarity after just a flurry of notes and words sung by a familiar voice you hear on the radio.

You don’t hear The Clash on the radio these days, but I can’t really tell you how much it meant to me back in 1977. I had a tear in my eye then, and I do now thinking about it. Everybody would sing along, loud. Those guys were a huge influence. It’s about appropriating anger. It’s what we should be doing. And suddenly (except for perhaps a bit of knew-joint pain and a few locks of grey hair) it’s as if no time has passed at all.

Fast forward, this first album remains an echo of the exhortation created more than 40 years ago. It speaks to entrepreneurs that you can write your own music, your own story, you can do it for yourself. On their record sleeves they printed: ‘Made by the Clash’. That says it all. Frustrated entrepreneurs, doing it for themselves.

Today, there is almost unlimited digitally fuelled competition for ears and pennies. For musicians, buskers or professionals, it has never been easy to turn tunes into cash and make a living. Social media enables direct-to-fan relationships, but the double-edged sword of technology is the mass-market digital noise reverberating from iTunes to Spotify to Soundcloud, where new bands can’t compete due to the social marketing voice and reach of the established artists.

You have to shout loud and spend lots to be heard. There are only so many iTunes/Starbucks ‘free track of the week’ cards to go around, so what are the strategy lessons from The Clash for startups today, to get yourself noticed as a new business in a crowded, market place as a newcomer?

Stand for something, be true to your purpose The Clash did whatever they wanted, great bands have that sense of purpose. They have a set of values and they remain true to them, quickly finding out that there are millions of people who share those same values. Like a band, put some voice in your content marketing and stamp it with your personality. When your earlier advocates realise that they could miss out on something unique and special, they won’t want to miss it, and will in fact share it.

Being different matters more than being better The Clash became successful because they were different. We had never seen anything like them before, they grabbed our attention. Rock stars have proven for years that being different – and getting noticed because of it – is more important than quality of music at the outset. It’s like building an MVP – be different, stand out from the crowd, offer something different. When opportunities don’t present themselves in a timely manner take calculated risks – pivot.

Be an experience A Clash concert wasn’t just about the music, it was the experience. Likewise great startups like Uber and Airbnb don’t simply sell products, they sell experiences which add value, and we buy into. Give your customers a really great, memorable experience instead of pitching them another me2 product. Social media is a force because it enables connectivity and community, conversations about experiences happen, creating word of mouth and referral marketing. Create opportunities for your customers to connect and share their experience.

Turn up the volume Can you hear us at the back? The Clash were loud. I mean loud, really loud. Their records were meant to be played so everyone down the street could hear it. Well, I thought so. Music sells the album, t-shirts and the concert tickets. Like music, your product content does not always have to ask for the order, just consistently keep everyone in a ready-to-act state. Be bold, and tell your followers and customers what you’re doing by delivering relevant content delivered in relevant ways.

Established customer know your history, new audiences want your hits Communicate your business legacy and future value through targeted channels and voices. New music keeps fans coming back for more. Always generate new and fresh products to keep people engaged with your brand, but treat existing and new customers differently. Don’t just deliver repeated content, engage your audience with innovation and create new reasons for people to come back to you.

Ensure your band has an inspired front man When your business leadership requires you to replace founding members with energetic new blood, put your business’s values in front for all to see. For The Clash, the focus was on Joe Strummer, a frontman with tremendous charisma but also, paradoxically, with a tremendous amount of humility. What do you stand for as a leader? Make it part of your brand.

Don’t just copy songs Even if it’s just a chord sequence or a riff, take it and make something else. Just copying something is no good, unless you want to just be in a tribute band. It’s vital to keep playing around and pushing yourself in business, create your own product. Don’t be afraid to build a business or revenue model that plays to your strengths, even if it’s non-conventional. Be an original, not a replica.

Be a brand, with an image. If you plan on getting noticed, establishing a brand promise, and creating an image is vital. John Pasche designed the ‘tongue and lips’ logo for The Rolling Stones in 1971, originally reproduced on the Sticky Fingers album. It is one of the first and most successful cases of rock brand marketing. Is your business logo iconic and noticeable?

Harness nostalgia with innovation Great music enshrines an artist with the amber glow of posterity. Today, vibrant retrospectives of digitally remastered content show the artist has transcended their time and that they can now be appreciated outside of the context of their era. Recordings from the past sit comfortably with tunes from the present. In business terms, it’s where your moments from the past meet today’s innovation, you have to leverage the past whilst also pushing the future to stay current.

So that was The Clash in 1977. A new generation raised its voice. Loud, clear, fast, innovative and straight in the face of the establishment. And forty years later this knockout record still sounds furious and roars mighty and still inspires. The restless heart and honest soul of one of the few bands that mattered will never vanish.

Make your startup like The Clash, with positive attitudes and energy, belief that you can achieve something new and spectacular. This mindset and behaviour enthuses and influences others around you as to the possibilities that you have envisaged.

Ensure your startup has the vitality, focus and aims to make a difference. Life’s too short to go unnoticed, be audacious. Life is all about progression from good to great. Push yourself to be there. Make some noise – 1-2-3-4 Go!

Startup leadership lessons from the Charge of the Light Brigade

I’ve long held an interest in British military history, taking leadership lessons into my business thinking. One of the harshest examples is the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. It highlights for entrepreneurs on how shortfalls in planning, poor working relationships and ineffective communication can have a hugely negative impact on decision-making and consequently, outcomes.

It is one of the least edifying episodes in British military history. On October 25th, 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava, the elite of the British army, The Light Brigade, charged suicidally into a phalanx of Russian heavy guns. The result was a tragedy: 673 men and officers engaged in the charge – fewer than one hundred survived. The Charge of The Light Brigade is one of the most compelling examples of incompetent British military leadership.

One reason startups plunge headlong into failure is by ignoring the rules of good decision-making and effective communication. The causes have an echo from the Crimea – entrenched attitudes, blinkered leadership, weak planning, clear thinking overcome by emotion. The results are familiar – great passion and effort but wasted energy and missed opportunities.

The story starts in 1853, when Russia invaded the Balkans. Britain and France had Treaty obligations, which they decided to fulfill because they did not want Russia with access to a warm water port and potentially greater political and commercial influence.

 The first problem they had to face was one of leadership. Who would lead the British Forces? Choice was limited. There hadn’t been a major war since the defeat of Napoleon forty years before and there was a lack of experience in the senior ranks.

The choice for leader eventually fell upon Lord Raglan, Wellington’s son-in-law, who had held a desk job as a military secretary for 40 years. There was hope that Wellington’s genius might have rubbed off on him. He was affable, likeable, well mannered – the perfect English gentleman. But he had no experience of leadership in the field.

The Cavalry Division was made up of the Light and Heavy Brigades. Lord Lucan was in charge of the Cavalry Division, a disciplinarian not respected by his troops. He was a hard worker and up before dawn each day. Lord Cardigan was in charge of the Light Brigade. He had a fiery temper. He was dismissed as Colonel of the 15th Hussars for his vindictive and tyrannical rule.

During the Crimean campaign, Cardigan lived on his boat, away from the troops, unlike Lucan who chose to stay with his men and experience the same conditions. Cardigan and Lucan were brothers-in-law and disliked each other intensely.

The lack of a warm relationship between the brothers-in-law impacted the chain of command, and was ultimately one of the factors that created a dysfunctional leadership culture. Raglan was the Head of the Army and Lucan reported to him; Lucan was Cardigan’s boss but Cardigan did not want to report to Lucan and tried to bypass him whenever he could by going direct to Raglan.

When Lucan complained to Raglan, Cardigan complained of Lucan’s interference. Raglan’s natural reaction when faced with interpersonal conflict was to avoid it and not resolve it. His tactic was simply to ask both men to get on with each other. Cardigan and Lucan’s relationship never improved, the pattern of behaviour was set from the outset.

By October 1854, the Allied armies were besieging Sevastopol. On the morning of 25th October, there were large movements of Russian forces threatening the British supply lines at Balaclava. Raglan sent messages for reinforcements to come down to the valley to help defend the base. One of these messages went to Sir George Cathcart, in charge of the Fourth Division, but Cathcart failed to see the urgency. He saw it as one of many urgent requests and considered this to be yet another false alarm.

As it was, history meant that everybody’s expectations were different and unaligned. Raglan thought Cathcart would support Lucan; Lucan thought Cathcart would appear and waited; Cathcart thought it was another false alarm and didn’t move instantly. This had fatal consequences.

On top of the hill, watching the events at Balaclava unfold, were Raglan and his officers. One of them noticed that the Russians were preparing to take away some British guns, captured earlier in the day, which would have been an embarrassment, but of little military impact. Raglan decided to try to stop them – a decision that was emotionally and culturally driven.

Raglan sent down a series of four separate orders to Lucan, telling him to use cavalry to stop the Russians taking away the guns. However, they had totally different physical perspectives on the theatre, and what the key actions and focus were for the next stages of the battle. So the schism was formed. Lucan literally couldn’t see the same guns as Raglan, but he could see guns. Because he could only see one set of guns, he assumed Raglan meant those.

They weren’t the British guns Raglan didn’t want the Russians capturing and enjoying a political and psychological victory, they were Russian guns at the far end of the valley, heavily protected on three sides by Russian infantry and cavalry. Lucan didn’t understand the orders from Raglan; he was confused. However, there were enormous pressures on him to do something.

One of the observers on the hill with Raglan was a young cavalry officer, Captain Louis Nolan. Nolan was experienced and knowledgeable, but, he was a junior officer and not from the right class, so senior officers didn’t take much notice of him. When he saw opportunities for victory being thrown away he was beside himself. Remember, he was seeing what Raglan saw – but he had little respect for the abilities of the cavalry commanders and, watching the activities below, his opinion was being confirmed.

Nolan was chosen to take the fourth and last order to Lucan. It was a disastrous decision considering Nolan’s perspective of the immediate event and his opinions of his superiors, which drove his behaviour. Nolan’s instructions to Lucan were unequivocal – attack the guns. His tone in delivering the order carried the full force of his anger and frustration. He didn’t explain. Lucan had to obey.

Paradoxically, the one time Lucan ought to have delayed and asked for clarity, he didn’t. Lucan ordered Cardigan and the Light Brigade down the valley to attack the (wrong) guns. When Cardigan received the order from Lucan he said I shall never be able to bring a man back but didn’t want his brother-in-law to have the satisfaction of seeing him appear to be cowardly. So he led the charge with 673 men straight at the firing enemy. Everybody knew the order was insane, but everybody followed it.

So what business lessons can we take from this catastrophic failure of leadership? A pointless effort due to muddled orders, especially when compared to the entirely successful and equally gallant charge of the Heavy Brigade earlier on the same day is generally forgotten?

Create a unified leadership culture At one level, the battle is a story of personal ambition, animosity and prejudice. Lucan and Cardigan detested each other and went out of their way to undermine each other. Leaders must put personal differences aside to create a shared consensus and collaborative culture, the adverse impact of personal vendettas is clear to see.

An entrepreneurial leader helps their people achieve greatness, even during hardship. It’s important to push your folks to meet their goals and advance their development and personal growth – it’s about their journey too. Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

Leadership is about people Raglan had never commanded an army in the field before. Politically adept but lacking emotional intelligence, he simply didn’t know the job of leading people, above or below his command.

As an early-stage entrepreneur, your team will be small, but with trustworthy people in place and proper coaching, you can better compete with the big guys. Be courteous to all, and intimate with a trusted few.

Leadership means listening The individual who ended up taking the blame for the fiasco of the Charge, Captain Nolan, was intelligent and motivated, eaten up with frustration at being ignored by a prejudiced class system that refused to acknowledge ability. No one listened to him. The arrogance of leaders means they often ignore others who are younger, more intelligent and from a different background to themselves.

Building a startup team is key, an entrepreneur can’t do it on their own. Assemble a core team of trustworthy people, create an open style of communicating, and listen to them. Consider different viewpoints and figure out the best approach.

Agility over hierarchy in decision making For his part, Cardigan’s pride prevented him from directly challenging an order from his superior. Why did Lucan, against his better judgement, obey Raglan’s order as transmitted by Nolan? Was it obedience to his superior, and the personal authority implied, or a desire not to be bested by his despised brother-in-law?

Under pressure, it is the quality of relationships that matter most. As an entrepreneur, you will make mistakes, but it’s how you learn from them and share this learning that will define your success as a leader.

Focus on clarity of communication From an organisational perspective, the Charge is a catalogue of inadequate channels and clarity of communication. Raglan`s last ‘urgent request’ for reinforcements was dismissed as scaremongering by its recipient. Nolan was responsible for transmitting Raglan’s final order to Lucan to charge, and it is possible that his repetition of Raglan’s order built upon the vagueness of the original message with his own bitterness and anger, resulted in Lucan’s reckless interpretation.

Leadership is about respect and humility As The Light Brigade blundered into a battle in the wrong place at the wrong time, the entire campaign narrowly avoided total disaster due to the heroic independent action of General Colin Campbell of the Sutherland Highlanders 93rd Black Watch Regiment, in forming what became immortalised as The Thin Red Line.

In this incident, the 93rd routed a Russian cavalry charge, which if successful would have signaled total defeat. Convention dictated that the line should be four-men deep. The Times correspondent, William H. Russell, wrote that he could see nothing between the charging Russians and the British regiment’s base of operations at Balaklava but the “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel” of the 93rd.

The line was two-men deep. This scared the Russians into thinking it was a trap, and they pulled away. Campbell’s relationship with his men was unconventional, he treated them like sons, as individuals, with warmth, compassion and humility.

We can condense this event into a symbol of how personalised leadership and personal connectivity is key to creating composure in battle, and this in business. Treat people as individuals, not resources.

Leadership is personal Asking future leaders to re-interpret their present reality through the lens of past examples is simply indoctrination, instead embody their learning experientially and facilitate an understanding of personal perspective and relevance in the current context. Helping develop essential skills, such as empathy, personal vision and personal presence is vital.

When you respect your folks, they will respect you, and when people believe in their leader, they’ll go to far for her. The forbearing use of power forms a touchstone for respect.

The paradox of leadership is shown clearly between Lucan and Cardigan, and Campbell. The difference is largely down to Campbell’s personal leadership skills. Campbell had that capacity for peripheral vision that enabled him to see what was at stake, and the single-mindedness to do something about it. It is a wonderful contrast with the blinkered myopic response of Lucan and Cardigan, unable to step outside a fixed behaviour.

Leadership is about calmness, not bravado Lieutenant Lewis B. Puller is the most decorated US marine in history, his service spanned four decades. He led marines in nineteen campaigns and some of the most critical battles of the C20th. Puller is most remembered by his fellow marines for his quick-witted encouragement in the midst of combat.

In the face of adversity, you have to stay calm and positive. If you lose it, your team will follow suit: All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.

One valorously tragic incident, immortalised by Tennyson’s epic poem, is a story of a tragic defeat, commanded by officers without a clear view of the battlefield, distracted by personal agendas and plagued by communication problems. Someone had blunder’d. Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred. Was there a man dismayed? It truly was the valley of Death.

The story of the Charge of The Light Brigade is where 673 men charged down the wrong valley after the wrong target. Are you charging down the wrong valleys after the wrong targets in your startup? Ask yourself the question about your direction and purpose, your strategy and tactics. But most of all, reflect on your leadership culture, style and communication.

Lessons in entrepreneurship from the baristas of NYC

The first time I visited New York, I was warned about three things: to be constantly aware of personal safety, to forget about tea as they only serve coffee, and, in the interests of political correctness (and, potentially, personal safety), never offer criticism of the President.

It was 1986 and for a week I walked around hyper vigilant for muggers, making no eye contact with strangers I passed on the street. When I needed a caffeine fix, I deliberately asked for a coffee with milk. And as for politics, the most political minded I got was that I wondered at times what The Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through Congress.

More than 30 years on, the change in a few decades is pronounced; time has made the city safer and seemingly better caffeinated. No comment on the President. From Manhattan to Brooklyn, there are hundreds of independent coffee shops. I am sitting in one, Five Leaves, a bistro-café in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on a crisp winter’s morning. In the cool light it is bursting with vibrancy: brightly coloured eggs, salmon and, everywhere, the unmistakable green of smashed avocado.

So many features of this airy cafe are familiar to others in the city – the distressed faded, almost run-down decor, the subtle scent of vinegar-laced boiling water for poaching eggs, and its packed with customers. Then the heavily tattooed barista, who has Death before decaf etched into one of his arms. I overhead the chat: I had to learn how to make 400 coffees in a morning.

The decor is pared back, with tiny stools at tiny tables piled into a tiny space. A small kitchen sends out freshly made artisan breakfast meals that are just fascinating in design and flavours, matching the artistry on the menu boards on the wall, and in reality judging by the gusto with which they are consumed, tasty. The cafe’s vibe is warm and welcoming, with around ten staff overseeing a customer base that comes and goes with amazing frequency.

What you see here is an example of entrepreneurship at a much smaller, individual scale – forget the tech behemoths that have emerged from NYC, the wave of independent coffee shops are the playgrounds of barista entrepreneurs. The barista-entrepreneur is no different from any other person choosing to launch their business idea a startup reality. They need to do their research, learn their craft, secure funding, find premises, create and test their product and then launch it.

In small independent coffee shops, the man or woman serving your flat white is often the proprietor, having to juggle everything from serving the coffee to mastering social media to managing suppliers. They are operating in a highly competitive market, against other independents and the global chains. They will stand or fall on the quality of their product, customer service and ambiance of their venue.

My week in New York, visiting my son was a great experience. I managed to get some work done too, commuting in with him on the L train, enjoying the hustle and bustle, sight and sounds, but most of all I got into the habit of seeking out the artisan independent coffee shops mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

I watched baristas operate as true entrepreneurs. From beans to roast to brew, offering signature blends of coffee with smooth taste, providing an alternative to the international chains known for the powerful brands, but their industrial scale lacking intimacy.

The extent of personalisation provided by the baristas surprised me, earning accolades from customers in their sincere greetings and genuine thanks. There was sincere recognition and rapport between barista and customer. So much so, that in most cafes I visited, the baristas recognised the customer and what coffee they wanted before they asked – despite them having thousands of customers each day.

New York does coffee. Coffee served quickly, exactly like the customer asks for it. Coffee places like Five Leaves do it right. They know what people want. The baristas are prepared. Baristas serve two functions in this equation. Baristas make the coffee the way the customer likes the coffee, but before they do that, they listen and recognise what they customer wants. They serve the very important function of listening. This made me stop in my tracks, because I didn’t realise just how much practice it takes to listen. It’s a vital piece in the customer relationship, over and above the coffee itself.

The espresso they serve is exactingly made, very tasty, and perfectly portioned with milk that’s just hot and foamy enough. For those looking to try something new, there’s a rotating selection of boutique, in-season beans at a higher price tag. Along with cortados and lattes, you’ll find the slightly more obscure shakerato, espresso shaken over ice and served with simple syrup and an orange twist.

But, back to the practice of listening. It’s a lot like the practice of delivering great coffee. Listen to what baristas say: I have that grande decaf mocha for you, when you’re ready; Tall skim cappucinno on the bar, just for you.  A little extra touch. No matter how crowded and busy the queue, they talk to their customers, and in talking with the customers, they learn about them.

So let’s look further at the lessons to be shared between successful entrepreneurs and baristas, what are their common attributes, behaviours and qualities?

Discipline Both have discipline, entrepreneurs to ‘make the main thing, the main thing’, to focus and not deviate. For a barista, maybe the game plan is simply consistency, prepare a great cup of coffee time and time again for every customer on every visit.

All entrepreneurs have a North Star, a barista is no different. Indeed scaling a business means being consistent and delivering to every customer, time and again.

Keep a clear head Amidst the hullaballoo and the fury of the frantic queues in the coffee shop, baristas have to keep a clear head. In the heat of the moment, they cannot get caught up in the intensity and lose focus or the lessons learned from their training, which is an important skill to have as an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs have to be both mentally alert and hold bundles of mental toughness, which helps to hone their mentality. It’s what makes an entrepreneur see the opportunity when others around them can’t see the way ahead.

Resilience Boxers get punched in the face, some get knocked down. The difference between a good boxer and a great boxer is the ability to get back up. It’s the same for an entrepreneur, they have to be able to dig deep, look within themselves, and have the confidence, courage and heart to keep getting back up, no matter how many times they get knocked down.

Baristas may not get punched in the face, but sometimes when things don’t go your way, it feels like it. But if you are confident enough in yourself and your business, and you want it bad enough, no matter how many times you get knocked down, you will find the courage and heart to keep getting back up.

Build muscle memory Muscle memory is equally important in business as it is in sport, especially when times are tough. Having weathered countless storms in the past, entrepreneurs rely on my muscle memory to kick in so, despite the loss, they maintain the mindset of growth and opportunity to go again and find new customers.

For Baristas, resilience in times of peak demand is needed to keep the customer experience as fresh and stimulating as the coffee.

Patience As an entrepreneur patience is as important as an ability to move quickly. Sometimes you may want to rush out and spread the word about what you’re doing or talk to potential customers, but if you move too soon, you may not have a full understanding of the situation. It is important to make sure that when an opportunity arises, you are prepared for it, able to recognise it, and attack it with great precision.

For the artful barista, it’s the combination of the quality of the product and the experience, they don’t cut corners despite the customer perhaps being in a hurry, creating the product takes time, care and attention, whilst finding a few moments engaging with the customer personally is a vital ingredient too.

Enjoy the oxygen Top rugby players use a technique whereby they take 30-second breaks in-between agility drills, weightlifting, jump-roping and sprinting in a five-minute intense workout. During those brief seconds, they are exhorted to enjoy the oxygen. This teaches them how to breathe using their diaphragm, not their lungs, and to lower their heart rate during breaks in play when on the pitch.

So many business folks are so caught up in the heat of the moment that they don’t stop to take a deep breath, step back, and pause for reflection, or to appreciate, understand and evaluate what they’ve accomplished. Pausing to collect your thoughts, regain composure and adjust your physiology helps entrepreneurs persevere over the long-term, especially when encountering those unexpected speed bumps and disruptions.

I’ve seen the baristas do this too, spending a quiet moment to themselves to reflect on the success of their business that morning, enjoying the success of seeing returning customers, before going again.

Put accuracy before power Business is more about rhythm, technique and accuracy than simply raw power. Power is useless if it misses its target, it wastes energy. That’s a great analogy for any entrepreneur who’s chomping at the bit to launch a new product or service, and dazzle the world. The best planned product or service will fail miserably if it doesn’t solve a customer want or need, all the smart marketing muscle in the world won’t matter.

This is how the independent coffee shops win against the global chains, they do lots of little things differently, they don’t try to compete on the same basis, they make a difference by being different, and focus on that.

Keep moving forward Although entrepreneurial success is heavily dependent upon skill and the perfection of the craft, anyone can be broken physically by a relentless challenge. It’s hard to keep moving forward when you don’t see visible signs of success, it becomes as much a battle of wills and mental endurance as it does a battle of stamina, strength, and skill.

Many of the greatest successes are of those people who just kept working – James Dyson, inventor of the dual cyclone bagless vacuum cleaner, spent five years and produced over 100 prototypes of his machine before success. We never hear about the guy who quit, but the guy who persists and perseveres and keeps moving forward to their goal.

People’s desire for that perfect cup of coffee or shot of espresso creates a queue of people in a hurry, but where baristas showcased the art form of artisan beverage making, everyone was happy to wait. Much like the subway artists in NYC, the barista craft is an art form to behold, performed with purpose.

I saw tonnes of guile, grit, creativity and determination – and smiling faces – from the hard working baristas who were putting a long shift in, they knew that today was a step forward to success and may not feel like it in the moment, but a focus on their horizon and holding their vision was vital to success.

It’s tough out there and the pace is fast, but like any entrepreneur they had discipline, clarity and focus to guide their thinking and doing towards their goals.

Entrepreneurial learning journey: Dominique Ansel’s Cronuts

Everywhere you look in New York City today, you see tech or creative startup spaces. The chaotic, hardscrabble, overstuffed, raging, romping, intoxicating, alluring, terrifying melting pot that is New York inspires. There’s a history of creative disruption here that casts a shadow down Broadway and the Bowery for more than three centuries, with a host of entrepreneurial endeavours.

It’s a city with a rich heritage of business pioneers. Titans of C19th and C20th industry have a legacy marked by buildings bearing their name that dominate the skyline, their omnipresence provides a backdrop and frame of reference to those setting out today about making their own mark.

Entrepreneurship is an endeavour that often requires a suspension of reality to clear mind-space for contrarian ideas, possibilities on the edge of their time, and creation of something that has not yet been. The culture and history of NYC provides a great backdrop for this thinking.

The great thing about entrepreneurship is that there are few limitations when you are equipped with the right mind-set. So a mime artist dreamer and a tablet toting spreadsheet loving tech entrepreneur walk into a bar – it doesn’t have to be the start of a joke but the meeting place for a creative teaming experience that can lead to great success and inspiration for all.

You can be a street artist, an author, a dancer – there are no boundaries on being an entrepreneur, it’s a state of mind, an expression of self. We don’t always associate chefs with entrepreneurship, but they are as much entrepreneurs as product inventors or app developers. Imagine you are a chef for a moment. In front of you is a blank canvas of ingredients, sat on the kitchen worktop, awaiting your spirit to infuse them with life.

Right beside you are your creative tools. It’s a simple set up, but combined with the human imagination and an ability to execute, has the makings to create a unique piece of work with the power to inspire. What chefs do is take an idea and manifest it into reality. They take a vision that existed nowhere else but in their own mind, and actualising it into reality through their work. That’s entrepreneurial thinking.

On May 10, 2013, Dominique Ansel’s did just this. He started selling a croissant-doughnut hybrid, which he called the Cronut, from his New York bakery. Nine days later, he’d registered the pastry’s name and crowds of people were queuing around the block to try the new innovative delicacy.

Last week I enjoyed a couple of Cronuts and coffee in his bakery café in a quiet stretch of Spring Street in Soho, New York. The creator of Cronuts isn’t just a baker. Dominique opened his little bakery with just four employees five years ago. Flash-forward to 2016, hundreds of creations later, a sister shop in the West Village and now across the world in Tokyo and London. He’s as much an entrepreneur as any tech rock star.

Prior to starting his own business, Dominique was executive pastry chef at Daniel Boulud’s flagship French restaurant in NYC. During his six years there, he was part of the team that led the restaurant to receive its first four-star New York Times Rating and three Michelin stars. He also spent seven years at the venerable French bakery Fauchon, where he was in charge of international expansion and helped set up shops in Russia, Egypt, Kuwait and other locations around the world.

Despite his ritzy resumé, the ‘Cronut King’ comes from humble origins. The youngest of four children, he grew up in Beauvais, about an hour north of Paris. His father was a factory worker, and the family couldn’t afford college, so Dominique began working at 16, training to be a chef and saving money.

At 19, he left home to complete a mandatory year of service in the French military, where he worked as a cook. After returning home he headed to Paris, not knowing anyone, and landed the job at Fauchon, where he quickly worked his way up from a temporary holiday season staffer to traveling the world and being in charge of international expansion.

With his unstoppable creativity, the New York Post proclaimed him the Willy Wonka of NYC, Food & Wine called him the culinary Van Gogh of our times, the most feted pastry chef in the world. With successful bakeries in London and Tokyo following New York off the back of the Cronut, he must be doing something right. a croissant-doughnut hybrid that became the most virally popular pastry of its time.

Believe me, they’re really, really good. The Cronut offers all the crumbly benefits of a croissant with the doughy sweetness of a doughnut. Sweet doesn’t really cover it – there’s a two Cronut limit, but eating any more would probably constitute a health hazard. Made with laminated dough, each Cronut is topped with a different colour of frosting and flavour, and each pastry is packed delicately, an elegant box in an elegant bag. If the only thing standing between you and opulence is five bucks and a long line, you might wait, too. But it was well worth the wait.

Ansel has a portfolio of innovative products he’s created – for example the Kouign Amann, a Breton inspired caramelised croissant with tender flaky layers on the inside and a crunchy caramelised shell a crispy shell on the outside. Then there is the Frozen S’more, inspired by the Turkish dondurma, made with Tahitian vanilla ice cream on the insider that’s covered in chocolate feulletine, then enveloped in honey marshmallow, placed on an applewood-smoked willow branch and torched to order.

This blog could evolve into a Masterchef critique, but I couldn’t help but think that his self-starter ambitions and product innovation provides some good entrepreneurship lessons. Dominique Ansel is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated and innovative pastry chefs in the world and for good reason.  He combines craft, nostalgia, analogies, complexity, surprise, shapes, interesting presentations, contrasting textures, and wow factor into his creations.  So what are the entrepreneurial lessons we can take from his craftsmanship?

Time as an ingredient In addition to focusing on ingredient quality and extreme freshness, original flavour and texture combinations, and fun, novel presentations – an aspect Dominique obsesses over to deliver the best possible product – is that each item be served at the optimal moment, when it’s at its peak temperature, lightness, and flavour. It was the first time I’d heard of time described as an ingredient, but it made total sense, and it is one of his guiding themes. Timing is everything for all entrepreneurs.

Put emotion into products One of the screening criteria for what makes the cut to appear on his menu is that the item evokes emotions, often nostalgic emotions tied to childhood, like the warm madeleines that Proust wrote about, or memories of summer camping the Frozen S’mores evoke, or the memories of milk and cookies after school his milk filled chocolate chip cookie shots evoke, or the traditional little pastries from Bordeaux, France called cannelés. Emotion engages customers is a key lesson.

Multisensory innovation Ansel’s creations have textural and temperature contrasts, like the liquid milk and soft cookies, or the S’mores with the soft honey marshmallow exterior, smooth and creamy ice cream inside and the crisp chocolate feuilletine that separate the warm marshmallow exterior from the cold, creamy ice cream inside. Capturing the customer’s imagination is vital for a startup with a new product to market.

Continuous product iteration Ansel’s is always searching for ways to make his products even better, he subscribes to the notion, and works in an environment where the products can evolve on the fly. This is a luxury other product categories can’t to the same degree, so gives him advantage. Build a culture where there is a focus on continuous development and iteration.

Be a relentless learner Ansel’s evidences the appetite for learning that is seen in many successful entrepreneurs.  Given how accomplished he is, you’d think there wasn’t much room for improvement, yet he feels there is so much more to try and do and create in his field. Build an ethos to always keep moving, innovating, learning, and growing.

Use your team as a source of new ideas Ansel constantly brainstorms with his staff.  The menu changes every 6-8 weeks, so the teams are always coming up with new ideas together.  He schedules regular tasting with to give feedback on new menu ideas and what ultimately ends up being added.  Use your team’s knowledge and experience as a source of innovation.

Combine ideas The Cronut pastries are not only a creative take on donuts and croissants, but also French and American cultures, combining a classic French pastry with America’s love for the familiar flavours of a caramel, chocolate and peanut combinations.  Keep an on open mind to serendipity.

Be authentic Ansel is an expert at the basics of pastry cooking as a foundation for innovation. If you study the early works of great contemporary painters and architects, like Picasso and Frank Ghery, they mastered the classics of their craft before they started to routinely innovate.  Dominique trained in classic French pastry, it’s an invaluable knowledge he brings to bear in deviating on traditional classics. Build your business on solid foundations before flying off at a creative tangent.

Trust yourself Dominique Ansel is always thinking broadly, about all the different ways he can innovate to make the experience of visiting his establishments special, different, memorable, and wonderful. In a recent interview, he was asked: ‘How do you know that what you’re doing is right?’. There was an awkward silence. Dominique put his hand on his heart and replied, in a serene, untroubled tone: I just know.

We live in an age where you can make anything possible. If you have an idea, just go for it. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, because the perfect opportunity is now.

Be a 10x entrepreneur like Alan Turing

From Nikola Tesla, to Steve Jobs to Elon Musk, entrepreneurs’ vision and endeavour push civilisation forward. They are the driving force of human evolution, the vanguard of innovation leading us into the future. Innovators are not limited to 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 deep sense of courage 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 truly innovate 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.

One innovator who was certainly confronted by conventional wisdom was Alan Turing. As an academic, Turing delivered a paper in 1936, On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, in which he presented the notion of a universal machine capable of computing anything that is computable. Turing’s inventions would go on to be called ‘Turing Machines’, the blue print for today’s computers.

After receiving his PhD from Princeton in 1938, Turing returned to Cambridge, and then took a position with the Government Code and Cypher School, a code-breaking organisation, the forerunner of GCHQ. During World War II, Turing was a leading participant in wartime code-breaking at Bletchley Park where he made major advances in the field of cryptanalysis, including specifying the bombe, an electromechanical device used to decipher German Enigma encrypted signals.

Turing’s contributions to the code-breaking process didn’t stop there. He also wrote two papers about mathematical approaches to code-breaking, which became such important assets that GCHQ waited until April 2012 to release them publically.

In the aftermath of WWII victory, Turing arrived in Manchester with an even bigger task in mind – development of his ‘Turing Machines’. It would be a task he left unfinished, publically humiliated and destroyed by the revelation of his sexuality and prosecution for indecency.

Turing held senior positions in the mathematics and the computing faculties at the University of Manchester in the late 1940s. He first addressed the issue of artificial intelligence and proposed an experiment known as the ‘Turing Test’ – an effort to create an intelligence design standard for the tech industry. Over the subsequent decades, the test has significantly influenced debates over artificial intelligence.

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. However, despite his soaring intellect, if tragedy requires the inventor to be undone by a fundamental flaw, it may have been Turing’s autism that brought about his fall.

Turing was incapable of speaking anything but the plain truth where a lie might be less hurtful. A fateful police interview in which Turing, having arrived to report a robbery, haplessly incriminates himself with the admission that he had been having sex with a man, was fateful.

Consequently, Turing lost his job, and was given experimental ‘chemical castration’ in 1952, after being convicted for homosexual activity. His criminal record resulted in the loss of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for GCHQ.

Turing died on June 7, 1954. Following a post-mortem, it was determined that the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. An apple with a single bite taken from it was found next to the body The autopsy reported that four ounces of fluid which smelled strongly of bitter almonds, as does a solution of cyanide was found in the stomach. Trace smell of bitter almonds was also reported in vital organs. The autopsy concluded that the cause of death was asphyxia due to cyanide poisoning and ruled a suicide.

Turing’s death may have been an accident, the apple was never tested for cyanide, nothing in the accounts of Turing’s last days suggested he was suicidal and Turing had cyanide in his house for chemical experiments he conducted in his spare room.

Acknowledged as founding father of the discipline of British computer science, he posthumously received an apology on behalf of the British Government, for prosecuting him as a homosexual and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. Turing was subsequently given a rare Royal pardon almost 60 years after he committed suicide.

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 possessed a tenacious and sometimes intransigent character with regards 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 upset the status quo, and open up a nexus of possibilities for society. It is what investor 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 solution currently on the market.

Thiel points as examples the Google algorithm, which was at least 10x more powerful than the others search engines that preceded it, as well as the Amazon website, 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.

Many entrepreneurs today are working on 10x projects, such as lightweight aerial drones that offer a multitude of potential uses, to Bitcoin, a crypto currency that has the potential to replace current cash systems. 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.

In the case of Turing, his efforts to create an intelligent machine ‘with a brain and a memory’ were almost terminated by an impatient military commander. The latter tried repeatedly to cancel his initiative, deemed too risky and esoteric. Often, short-term urgency forces the use of more traditional methods to solve a problem.

Therefore, 10x innovation can sometimes be scary. In particular, we remember the classic episode of modern cinema’s introduction in 1895 by the Lumière brothers, where spectators fled the room when they started to believe that the train shown in the movie would come out of the screen!

Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. An exceptional man, his awkward posture and scruffy tweeds suggest a giant intellect trapped within the body of an overgrown schoolboy – indeed in the play Breaking The Code, currently playing at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, the only time he becomes truly eloquent is during an address in which he likens the grey matter of the human brain to the tepid porridge of his boarding school days.

We don’t celebrate Turing enough probably in part because of his sexuality, and also probably because he was a computer scientist and we don’t value that history enough either. For me, put him on a banknote. Better, put him in the school curriculum as an icon in the history of science. Turing is remembered as the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence. He should be remembered, additionally, as a pioneer in the practical application of maths that advanced both society and industry.

Suicide, an accident or an act of subterfuge by British Security Services who considered Turing a high security risk? Whatever happened, the fact remains that a half-eaten apple was found by Turing’s bedside. Fast-forward two decades, to a few guys making personal computers in a garage in San Francisco.

They had a name for their product and were now in need of a logo. The men were aware of Turing’s contributions to computers and coding, idolised his ingenuity, genius and talent for putting together the first real 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.

Or is it? Is it a nod back to Turing and his role as creator of the machine for which Apple made its business logo? Designer Rob Janoff claims that he didn’t explicitly intend this meaning when he created the logo in 1977.

He intended it to be about taking a bite out of an apple for sure, because of its use as a symbol over hundreds of years of mythology, back to the Garden of Eden, and the logo being the ‘symbol of lust and knowledge’. For Steve Jobs, 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, especially at the time as what they were doing was so pioneering.

Whatever the real story of the Apple logo, if it isn’t in recognition of Turing, the fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine.

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. It was Socrates who said, The unexamined life is not worth living. It’s not the path itself that matters the most; it’s that it has been consciously created and is therefore a reflection of who you are.

Whatever you’re working on as an innovating entrepreneur today, this week, this month, look to the achievements of Alan Turing, and make your x10 mark.

The new tech startup landscape: the impact of Trump as POTUS

On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President, a man of vision, integrity, dignity and generous spirit, and witness the inauguration of President Trump. It is impossible not to react to this moment with anything less than profound anxiety. This almost puts the toblerone fiasco into perspective.

For the party of Abraham Lincoln, Trump is a profound embarrassment. The folly of the masses has overtaken the wisdom of crowds. Trump’s manifesto was hollow on content but overflowed with hyperbole and bombast. The campaign mirrored the EU referendum, marked by intense polarisation and absence of civility. ‘Political integrity’ – words which repel each other like similar ends of a magnet, has lapsed for a generation.

However, let’s set aside the political polarity and consider what Trump’s presidency could mean for one vital section of the economy – tech startups, both in the US and in the UK. Here’s my take from reading a number of articles, and my own thoughts.

Investment There is a maelstrom of uncertainty as many investors did not anticipate this outcome, and if there is anything that investors hate, it is uncertainty. However, some of the best companies have been created in times of economic turmoil, and, because of that, some of the best startup investments have been made in times when everyone was risk averse.

I am certain that investors will continue to invest in disruptive tech startups where their innovative value proposition offers product-market fit. While the financial markets may be volatile, there is no correlation between startup success and strong financial markets. Investors who understand what makes a startup an investible proposition will continue to act accordingly and be rewarded over the long term for doing so.

That means entrepreneurs looking to raise money in the coming months may have to wait it out and be conservative with cash as the senses settle, possibly hampering near-term growth, preserving cash and find a way to survive. But a great startup is a great startup. Startups encourage an equilibrium shift towards investment-driven growth, that wont change.

Entrepreneurial attitudes Entrepreneurs don’t confuse uncertain times with a lack of opportunity. If you were excited about your business two weeks ago, you should be excited about your business today, but don’t be blind about the macro environment you are operating in. It’s going to be choppy for a bit.

It would be unfathomable to think that someone who has been in business all his life is going to do anything that would hurt businesses and that the pendulum will swing to more realistic and sensible policies.

The platform business models, online businesses, Blockchain, crypto currencies – there is no reason why startups in these domains should not move forward. They are global businesses that know no borders, and innovation will continue to drive opportunity.

The US is the most entrepreneurial tech country in the world, and will keep producing Teslas, Googles, Amazons, Apples, Kickstarters, Twitters, Facebooks on the back of disruptive entrepreneurial thinking and behaviours. The globalisation of capital (in contrast to labour) means that when growth falters capital can go elsewhere, and equally, success will pull cash towards them.

Business ethics Startups fail, we all know the low probability of success and the cash burn of startup failures. No one sets out to fail, no one sets out to lose the cash and confidence of investors.

However, Trump’s behaviour – setting up businesses, letting them fail, using bankruptcy laws to avoid taxes, then setting up another business somewhere else – is the perfect symbol of the immoral asset-stripping form of ‘old style’ capitalism.

Tackling inequality and promoting opportunity should be a central objective of economic policy, for economic reasons every bit as much as social reasons. Startups offer an opportunity to reconnect a company with society, and instil a sense of broader obligation, rewarding value creation over value extraction.

Most startups operate with a strong community ethos, most startup founders are driven by making a difference, not money, money is the applause not the objective. Trump is not an entrepreneur as I would define one, he lacks the humility and operates to the indulgent capitalist stereotype of winner takes all as long as it is me.

Economic policy encouraging startup ventures While Trump was vague about his platform on the campaign trail, the broad strokes with which he painted his economic policy don’t bode well for the broader tech community. Trump is definitely a problem for that model. His economic policies are focused on punishing China for its trade abuses and returning manufacturing to the US.

If Trump moves ahead with his plan to impose steep tariffs on goods manufactured in China (rolling back more than twenty years of economic policy focused on increased economic interdependence), it won’t bode well for any US tech businesses that relies on the global supply chain and a global customer base – as most tech businesses, both in the US and UK, do.

Enabling free movement and diversity of labour markets Beyond tariffs, making tech products more expensive (and hypothetically forcing companies to return their manufacturing to the US), Trump is likely to have a significant impact on the issue of immigration, the free movement of labour and diversity in the workforce – all key drivers of startup growth.

Silicon Valley has made a huge push to support and expand the H-1B visa system, which enables talented workers from overseas to remain in the US and give them a path to a green card while filling the demand for highly skilled jobs. Trump said he would eviscerate that system.

For tech startups, the H-1Bs are a high-tech iteration of the message of compassion inscribed on the Statue of Liberty — Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free – except they’re highly educated, highly skilled workers rather than huddled masses yearning to be free.

It’s not the robots that are the problem Trump’s not a tech guy, that much we know. He also doesn’t know his economics. Robert Solow, the emeritus MIT economist, researched and developed a model which shows that around 80% of economic growth is down to technological progress, leaving capital and labour driven growth by the wayside.

I worry that for the sake of creating more American jobs, Trump might somehow slow tech, including self-driving technologies. Trump promises to bring back manufacturing jobs, but robots won’t let him. I don’t think he understands the tectonic shift that AI and robotics have reshaped the economy, and it’s not reversible. Indeed, robotics have already helped reduce reliance on labour overseas for US manufacturers in automotive, electrical and electronics industries.

If manufacturing returns to US per his aim, jobs aren’t coming with it in high numbers. Automation has left workers in developing nations without employment, and the US like other developed economies faces the same challenge. Startups creating interesting robotics that stand to replace jobs from people, both in the UK and US, will continue to attract seed and venture funding.

It’s not just startups innovating with AI and robotics, large brands like Nike and Adidas have shed staff and embraced robotics, for example 3-D printing of shoes. Large agricultural business deploy drones in the field and major companies like Amazon and UPS rely heavily on robots for logistics and warehousing.

And the robots aren’t getting dumber. Advances in VR and AI promise to make robots and the software-brains inside of them even more competitive with people. It is not the robots that are the enemy, Donald.

Curating and enabling entrepreneurial flair Trump reserved some special vitriol for the folk from Cupertino. He called for a boycott of Apple’s products over its encryption stance following the San Bernardino shooting and bombings.

He had harsh words that harnessed his distrust of China to announce his plans to quite literally make Apple manufacture its products in the US: We’re going to get Apple to build their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries. Tim Cook, a composed and thoughtful man responded in an articulate and reasonable manner to this threat. Just imagine how Steve Jobs, a more abrasive character, would have taken up the challenge.

While it remains unclear if these comments form part of Trump’s policy on technology and business, his rhetoric will be of concern to Apple. In response to that uncertainty, Cook told employees to be confident that Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed.

Tim Cook’s leadership message in response to Trump’s threats was an example of the stark contrast to be made of intelligent liberalism against Trumps thoughtless populist sound bites: Our company is open to all, and we celebrate the diversity of our team here in the United States and around the world regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love.

He’s also focused on Jeff Bezos and Amazon – If I become president, do they have problems, he said back in February, taking specific issue with Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post and his support for Clinton, and for swaying political influence to benefit himself and Amazon. For his part, Bezos reserved Trump a special (one-way) ticket on one of his Blue Origin rockets.

While Trump was vague about his platform on the campaign trail, the broad strokes with which he painted his economic policy don’t bode well for the broader tech community. Sam Altman, president of startup incubator Y Combinator, and Shervin Pishevar, co-founder of Hyperloop One, even suggested that California secede.

This leaves the US tech industry in an uncomfortably uncertain position. Total contributions to the Clinton campaign from the Internet industry came in at 114 times the level they did for Trump. High-profile figures in US tech such as Zuckerberg, Benioff and Hoffman, all took unusually public anti-Trump stances. The notable exception was Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal backer and Silicon Valley’s resident contrarian.

However, it was Dave McClure of 500 Startups, a startup accelerator and seed fund – who made his feelings known on stage at Web Summit, which perhaps showed the schism potentially opening:

We provide communication platforms for the rest of the f—— country and we are allowing s— to happen. It’s a propaganda meeting. Even if people aren’t aware of the s— that they’re being told, if they’re being told a story in fear, if they’re being told a story of ‘other,’ if they’re not understanding that people are trying to use them to get into f—— office, then yes, a—— like Trump are going to take office. And it’s our duty and our responsibility as entrepreneurs, as citizens of the f—— world, to make sure that s— does not happen. This s— will not stand, and you’ve got to fight for your rights and… stand the f— up!

Quite how a flawed personality, a populist billionaire, a hotel developer, won election as POTUS, for a country seen as a ‘beacon of hope’, based on his manifesto, defies analysis. We can only believe that the driving force of passion for entrepreneurship and innovation, from economic, technological and sociological perspectives, carries enough momentum against the voices of the Trumpkins.

Outgoing President Obama today visits Athens as part of his ‘farewell tour’, partly to talk about democracy in the place in which it was born. There’s a lot for us all to consider. In Ancient Greece, not far from the Acropolis, populist speakers used to rouse crowds with the promise of action against the state’s enemies.

Those speakers were known as demagogues. You have to wonder whether or not that will remind the outgoing president of the man who will succeed him. In turn we have to hope that Trump gets educated in the business of technology and the technology of business, to enable our tech startup cultures to continue to thrive, and that any economic policies do not constrain because of a flawed, stale and utterly misguided set of ideological principles.

Developing winning teams the Theo Epstein way

Theo Epstein is the President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs, crowned Major League Baseball’s World Series Champions last week, ending a drought of 108 yeas since their last victory. He is acknowledged as the driver behind their reinvention, with a unique strategic approach to identifying, recruiting and developing talent, which has resonance beyond baseball.

The Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in the tenth innings. The Cubs, who had been 1-3 down in the best-of-seven series, blew a three-run lead in the final game but came back after a rain delay to clinch the title.

At 00:48 in Cleveland, Ohio, Michael Martinez of the hometown Indians chopped a groundball to third base. There, Kris Bryant scooped it up and fired across the diamond to Anthony Rizzo. When the ball landed in his glove, the World Series was over.

A powerhouse of baseball’s formative years, the Cubs played in three of the first five World Series, triumphing in 1907 and 1908. But then came a huge reversal of fortune, as fans endured over a century of failure. Between 1910 and 1945, the Cubs won seven National League pennants, but lost each time in the World Series.

The drought was imbued with fresh intrigue in 1945, when a local tavern owner supposedly put a curse on the club. William Sianis, proprietor of the Billy Goat Tavern, took a goat to games at Wrigley Field, but he and his pet were refused admission to a World Series contest against the Detroit Tigers that year. According to legend, Sianis was so outraged he proclaimed the Cubs would never win another World Series.

Epstein was tasked with reversing this sorry narrative, and bringing a world title to the North Side. Previously, Epstein masterminded two World Series triumphs at Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. The Red Sox had a championship drought of their own – 2004 was their first championship since Babe Ruth helped the team to a title in 1918. The 2004 victory left a mark on Epstein:

The morning after we won, on the way in from the airport, we passed a cemetery and there were dozens of Red Sox pennants and hats on top of the gravestones. Grandsons, sons and daughters went and made sure they knew. It was incredibly emotional.

Under Epstein, the Cubs finished last in each of their first four seasons, losing 94 out of 162 games per year on average. Yet much of that was by design, as Epstein looked to take advantage of rules regarding baseball’s amateur draft.

Each year, teams pick new players from high school or university, with the order of that selection process determined by win-loss record. The worse a team performs, the greater its chances of drafting a future superstar. Young players are also paid much less than existing players, affording teams far more flexibility on their payroll. This may seem like a perverse incentive to lose, but Epstein used this strategy to replenish the Cubs with elite young talent.

This season, after adding professional talent, Chicago finished with a 103-58 regular season record, good enough to secure their first division title since 2008. The Cubs then beat San Francisco and Los Angeles in successive post-season rounds to clinch a trip back to the World Series.

In the World Series, Cleveland won game one 6-0. The Cubs rebounded to even the series with a 5-1 win, before a tight third game for Cleveland ended 1-0. The Indians also took game four, a 7-2 win edging them within one victory. Just as people began to question the Cubs, they embarked on a winning streak. A Bryant home run sparked a big rally to win game five 3-2 and the Cubs won game six, 9-3 to tie the seven game series 3-3.

The deciding contest had innumerable twists, and displayed extremes of raw emotion that will never be forgotten. The final game went into an extra ninth, and then a tenth innings. A 17-minute delay followed the ninth innings due to rain, then Ben Zobrist smacked a tie-breaking RBI double in a two-run tenth that lifted the Cubs to an 8-7 victory over the Indians.

So what is the secret to Theo Epstein’s team building?  If there is a formula for his success, it is complex and multi-dimensional, but also remarkably unsophisticated in one essential way – when deciding whether to add a player, Epstein focuses most of his attention on an athlete’s personal characteristics rather than just his physical abilities. He values the person as much as the player. He calls it Scouting the person more than the player.

He comments, In the draft room, we will always spend more than half the time talking about the person rather than the player. What are their backgrounds, their psyches, their habits, and what makes them tick?

He wants the right kind of people on the field. ‘Character’ is a vexed subject. Intelligence and physical skills derive significantly from character. Character is now being understood not as the destination, but the foundation, even the process.

The thing Epstein wants to know most about any potential player is how he has handled adversity. We ask our scouts to provide three detailed examples of how these young players faced adversity on the field and responded to it, and three examples of how they faced adversity off the field. Because baseball is built on failure. The old expression is that even the best hitter fails seven out of 10 times.

The Cubs opened the season with 22 players obtained by Epstein, and had the best regular season record in Major League Baseball. A team deep in talent, the roster was a mix of youthful prodigies and wily, proven veterans. Epstein patiently and strategically built the mosaic that is the Cubs’ line up with one prescient acquisition after another.

Having made an assessment of character, Epstein then looks to science. His use of data analytics and algorithmic tests to measure players’ co-ordination is essentially using neuroscience to measure talent. He spends long days modelling data, following in the steps of Billy Beane.

Beane was the general manager of the Oakland A’s who famously fashioned his low-budget team into a surprising contender by using data analytics to find hidden gems among the players whom other teams had rejected. This was the dawning of the Moneyball era.

Back in Boston, Epstein won two World Series, in part by digging deeper into data, drawing on the burgeoning field of sabermetrics (named after the Society for American Baseball Research). Sabermetricians examine the various statistics a baseball game produces, with an eye toward figuring out which skills and outcomes really determine who wins and loses.

Epstein cut a deal with a pair of data scientists interested in studying the neural pathways that govern the act of hitting a baseball. They got access to his team, and he wound up with a ground breaking new evaluation tool – a nuanced algorithmic test to assess a player’s dynamic hand-eye co-ordination, reaction time, and inhibitory control, which is the ability for the brain to start an act and then stop it when it gets new information—like, say, laying off a breaking pitch.

When a batter puts the ball in play and it results in an out, what really made that happen, and how can we quantify it? Now most MLB teams ask those sorts of questions; yesterday’s winning insights have become today’s common practices. The Cubs focused on drafting and developing hitters over pitchers because the data makes clear that young hitters are a much safer bet to develop.

Epstein mines statistics to evaluate talent, forecast player performance, and model game strategies. It’s what led him to sign several players whom other teams had released. Gathering stats on college players going back thirty years, Epstein ran regression analyses to isolate the qualities that predicted success in the pros. Armed with those findings, he drafted a succession of future stars.

During the initial rebuilding years, when the MLB team offered little to cheer, news of these prospects provided succour. Fans were encouraged to bypass the first team and focus on how the kids were tearing it up. Five years after Epstein promised Chicago a winner, the Cubs were ready to make their move. The kids started coming up, and they could play.

It meant taking a step back at the major-league level for a few years, trading some established players for some younger, lesser-known prospects, but Epstein’s hiring science was an unmistakable signal of seriousness and commitment.

Having assembled the squad, next on his radar was to apply the same analytical approach to training and development techniques. Epstein compiled The Cubs Way, a detailed catalogue laying out his approach.

Hitters would be trained to be selectively aggressive, watching for particular pitches to drive. Pitchers would prepare according to a precise protocol designed to promote durability and prevent injury, prescribing when and how they should throw between games.

Also within his development plan is a focus on mental skills, including a series of strategies to help players cope with mental stress and improve their mental performance – in elite sport, after physical fitness and motivation, players are really in the business of decision-making. The winning team makes more good decisions.

Epstein believes that he can advance his team’s performance when they train to make better decisions. There are now highly evolved analytical techniques for understanding how those decisions influence results. However, the athletes themselves are still people, imperfect and not machines. Analysing the data is one thing, and actually using that data to inform and influence organizational decisions is another.

If you could choose to be a fan of any team for any season in the recent history of baseball, you would choose either the 2004 Red Sox or the 2016 Cubs. Both turned enduring legacy of failure into glorious victory. Maybe you’d prefer the catharsis of your own team beating your long time nemesis, but for me as a neutral, it’s really one team or the other. And somehow, the same man built both teams using an analytical approach.

To be perfectly clear, ‘analytics’ doesn’t mean ‘numbers’. It means cutting through the noise, nonsense and subjectivity of people recruitment and development where we all have unfounded bias. It means having a reason for every decision you make, and that reason being something other than ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done’.

It doesn’t mean eliminating conventional wisdom, it means questioning it. It means getting as much data as you can, but data is just a fancy word for information. The Cubs don’t focus on stats at the exclusion of other forms of information  – there is always more information to be had, and more information is always useful. The battle was never between the quants and the gut-instinct types, it was between the curious and the incurious. The curious have won.

The Cubs’ championship melds analytics and scouting information, that sees no contradiction or controversy in using data of all types to inform its decisions. It is the inevitable harmonic perfection that every organisation in baseball and business is heading in that direction.

If you’re a Cubs fan, it’s time to party like you’ve never partied before. But if you’re a fan of smart people doing smart things and pushing the boundaries and trying new strategies in a never-ending quest to secure a competitive advantage, you should be rejoicing, too. Epstein’s holistic approach – focus on character, apply data science to selection, adopt precise physical training techniques and develop mental skills, especially decision making – can be applied to building the smartest team in your business.

Talent is critical to business performance, and companies need to understand talent-related insights to make informed business decisions. Yet most enterprises still base talent decisions on the intuition and experience of hiring managers and HR professionals. Few can offer systematic evidence to support their hunches.

Epstein has shown that a use of blended work force data analytics can produce better talent decisions, and better talent decisions improve results. The ‘datafication’ of talent is a leading analytics trend today and has the potential to change the game forever.

How Amelia Earhart made her mark for female entrepreneurs

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure, the process is its own reward.

Spoken like a true entrepreneur, this quote captures Amelia Earhart’s drive and focus. Her flying achievements are extraordinary, and demonstrate her strength and spirit as a female pioneer.

Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean amongst many other records throughout her career. Her disappearance in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the world was a tragic loss.

When ten-year-old Amelia saw her first plane, she was not impressed. It wasn’t until she attended a stunt-flying exhibition almost a decade later that she became seriously interested in aviation. On December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave her a ride that would forever change her life.

Earhart took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921 and, in six months, managed to save enough money to buy her first plane. The second-hand Kinner Airster was a two-seater biplane painted bright yellow – The Canary – and set her first women’s record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 ft.

Then in April 1928, she took a phone call: How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic? After an interview in New York with the project coordinators, she was asked to join the flight.

She left Trepassey Harbour, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F7 named Friendship on June 17, 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales 21 hours later.  When the crew returned to the United States, they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

George Putnam entered her life, too. The two developed a friendship during preparation for the Atlantic crossing and were married February 7, 1931. Intent on retaining her independence, she referred to the marriage as a partnership with dual controls.

Together, they worked on plans for Earhart to become the first woman and the second person to fly solo the Atlantic. On May 20, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh, she took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris. Strong north winds, icy conditions, and mechanical problems plagued the flight and forced her to land in a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland.

President Herbert Hoover presented Earhart with a gold medal from the National Geographic Society. Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross-the first ever given to a woman. Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.

In the years that followed, Earhart continued to reach new heights. On January 11, 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to California.

In 1937, as Earhart neared her 40th birthday, she was ready for her biggest challenge: she wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Despite a botched attempt in March that severely damaged her plane, a determined Earhart had the twin engine Lockheed Electra rebuilt. I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it, she said.

On June 1, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey. On June 29 they landed in Lae, New Guinea with just 7,000 miles remaining. Frequently, inaccurate maps had made navigation difficult, and their next hop to Howland Island was by far the most challenging.

Howland Island, in the Pacific, is a mile and a half long and half-mile wide. Every unessential item was removed from the plane to make room for extra fuel, which gave Earhart approximately 274 extra miles more. The US Coastguard was stationed just offshore of Howland Island and two other US ships, burning every light on board, were positioned along the flight route as markers.

On July 2, at 10am local time, the pair took off. Despite ideal weather reports they flew into overcast skies and intermittent rain showers. This made celestial navigation difficult. As dawn neared, Earhart called the US Coastguard reporting cloudy weather, cloudy.

The Coastguard sent a steady stream of transmissions but she could not hear them. At 7.42am, the Coastguard picked up the message Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet. The ship replied, but the plane seemed not to hear.

At 8.45am, Earhart reported We are running north and south. Nothing further was heard from her. A rescue immediately commenced and became the most extensive air and sea search in naval history. On July 19, after spending $4m and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean, the US government called off the operation.

In 1938, a lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in her memory. On 5 January 1939, Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead by the US Court. Neither the plane or bodies were recovered.

There is no doubt that the world will always remember Amelia Earhart for her courage, vision, and groundbreaking achievements, in aviation for women.  In a letter to her husband, written in case a flight proved to be her last, her brave spirit was clear:

Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.

Amelia Earhart was before her time, showing many attributes of a C21st female entrepreneur that are worth noting. There are those who may think that an enterprise like hers must have some justification, that without it there was no good reason for taking such grave risks, but that’s the underlying spirit of entrepreneurship.

She had a positive attitude There’s no energy that can mimic what’s released when a positive energy is released. A positive attitude is the fuel needed to drive us from idea conception to realisation. To help you stay positive, surround yourself with people who’ll encourage, inspire and believe in you. If you have a positive attitude, you’ll be able to see the potential that lies within you.

Earhart struggled at the outset as all entrepreneurs, but had amazing inner strength. She used adversity to her advantage. At the end of a struggle, you’re a better, more valuable person. Helen Keller said Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.

She had integrity Entrepreneurs don’t need to leave victims in their path to be victorious. You don’t need to step on others to step to the next level. Integrity must be the very core of your character. Always put honour before money and live by your convictions. As you gain respect and trust, your company will grow. Earhart created admiration for her endeavours, and her integrity was a key element in this.

She was focused on her next step Goals are dreams with a plan for realisation. Commit your short and long-term goals to writing. Record how and when you’ll achieve them. Post your goals in plain sight and review them often. Record the reward when the goal is attained. Remember that you can’t hit a mark you can’t see, and continual success demands a plan.

The greatest point of resistance for entrepreneurs is often just before breakthrough. Earhart had plenty of challenges, but constantly looked forward. We must have a stubborn resolve to see ourselves to the other side. When challenging circumstances seek to derail us, if we just take that next step, we’ll find that we’ve made it.

She had huge self-belief Look at any entrepreneur and you will see how much they believe in themselves. Self-belief is probably the single most important trait possessed by any successful entrepreneur. If you don’t believe you can succeed, then you won’t get very far. Of course, Earhart had this in spades.

She was driven by passion Successful entrepreneurs are always passionate about what they do because they tend to create businesses around the things they enjoy. Oprah Winfrey suffered a difficult childhood, then built a career around her passion to help others. Anita Roddick was passionate about environmental and social activism and her company, The Body Shop, was the first to prohibit the use of products tested on animals. Amelia Earhart was passionate about testing herself against unproven targets.

Find your own passion, believe in it and turn it into something you can really be proud of. As Anita Roddick once said To succeed you have to believe in something with such a passion that it becomes a reality.

She had a clear sense of purpose There is no point in starting a business unless you possess a strong sense of purpose. You have to believe that you are destined for great (and good) things. Just look at women like Coco Chanel or Oprah Winfrey – they believed they had a purpose in life. They wanted to make a difference, and they certainly did. To be a successful female entrepreneur you have to believe in yourself and believe that what you are doing is making a difference. That strong sense of purpose will be reflected in your business, which will only stand the test of time

She was fuelled by bravery and persistence Whether you’re a man or woman, it takes guts to start a business and deal with the challenges you will undoubtedly face. You have to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone to move forward, taking risks and accepting that when things go wrong, you can always survive and turn things around. Be brave and you will never look back. We can only imagine Earhart’s bravery each time she set off on one of her ventures.

Starting a business is one thing, keeping it going is another matter entirely. Just like Earhart, to be a successful businesswoman, you have to be persistent and never give up. Granted, there will be days when you feel like sticking your head in the sand and giving up, but when you’re feeling down, remember why you set off on this journey in the first place. Remind yourself of all the things you’ve achieved. Stick at it because the next best triumph could be just around the corner.

Amelia Earhart was marked for greatness. She rarely failed either in public or in private to live up to what she demanded of herself. She would not compromise with integrity and she did not quail before danger. Such energy cannot be planned and managed, often entrepreneurs do not know where their impulse is taking them. They can give no account in advance of where they are going or explain completely where they have been. They have been possessed for a time with an extraordinary passion, which is unintelligible in ordinary terms.

Amelia Earhart is a model of the modern independent woman, and an icon of the spirit of adventure, her myth made all the more alluring by her mysterious disappearance and failure at her final challenge. Like all entrepreneurs, it was down to sheer effort, thinking big and bold, and having a clear focus.

Lessons in personal branding from Hilda Ogden

Jean Alexander, who played the character Hilda Ogden in Coronation Street, died aged 90 on Friday. She held an enduring part of my teenage years, each Monday and Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm. It was the only television programme that I ensured I watched regularly, and her character was the reason why. It was compulsive viewing.

Hilda was a sharp-tongued, put-upon housewife who was one of Coronation Street’s best known characters, from 1964 to 1987. With her curlers, headscarf and piercing voice that could not be ignored, Hilda was for me the programme’s most iconic character.

Jean Alexander ensured we always rooted for the downtrodden cleaning lady, who embodied classic-era Coronation Street’s perfect balance of drama and comedy. She reached into the hearts of viewers. She was everyone’s nosy neighbour.

Jean formed a comedy double act with her on-screen husband, Stan, played by Bernard Youens. As Hilda, Jean became a mainstay of the then twice-weekly serial, invariably bickering with her workshy husband Stan and spreading gossip and scandal. However, together they formed an alliance against a world that was out to do them down.

Her tuneless, high-pitched warblings, and the panoramic ‘muriel’ on her living room wall, the backdrop for her three flying plaster ducks – the loose one in the middle always crazily pointing downwards – on wallpaper of a mountain range, became part of her professional signature – a vista Stan later ruined by letting his bath overflow. As a family we always used to shout out who was first to see the ducks in an episode.

Famed for her dangling cigarette, curlers, turban-style headscarf and wrap-around pinny, she was the cleaner at the Rovers Return pub for years, but as well as finely observed spikes of high and low comedy, the part also drew moments of intense pathos, none more memorable than her heartbroken on-screen farewell to her newly deceased layabout husband Stan.

After actor Bernard Youens died in 1984, his character Stan was written out. Hilda was seen silently unwrapping the small parcel she had brought home from the hospital containing Stan’s few personal effects. She delivered what was a devastating performance. As Hilda silently closed Stan’s spectacle case for the last time, the nation wept with her.

She and Youens developed the couple to the point where an episode’s storyline seemed incomplete without them. Three years after her screen husband’s death, Jean decided it was time to move on 1987. Half the nation tuned in to watch as her neighbours showed affection for her by throwing a surprise party in the Rovers Return to celebrate her leaving to become housekeeper for Doctor Lowther.

Jean Alexander brought a lot of her own personality to her role and was very observant about people. She based her portrayal of Hilda on wartime women munitions workers, whose heads were always covered to protect them from the machinery. They used to wear these scarves, like pudding-cloths, tied up and the curlers would be in – Hilda, Jean Alexander noted, was always ready for a night out – ‘only she never went out. The curlers were always in, just in case…’

Hilda’s definitive personal attributes and characteristics highlighted above created her own personal brand. It was a deliberate strategy, a true reflection of the character that emerged, making her mark, making herself memorable and standing out from the crowd.

Creating a ‘personal brand’ is a positive way to stand out in an increasingly competitive business world. The term ‘personal brand’ first appeared in August 1997 in an article by management guru and author Tom Peters, who wrote, We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

Personal branding is simply the way in which individuals differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their value, and then leveraging with consistent behaviour. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in establish reputation and credibility – ‘it’s what they are famous for’.

Personal branding typically begins with establishing an inventory of core competencies, expertise and demonstrated abilities and consists of three elements:

  • Value Proposition: What do you stand for?
  • Differentiation: What makes you stand out?
  • Marketability: What makes you compelling?

Let’s look at this in a little more detail, how do you build a This is me brand to help you be memorable and help answer the customer’s question Why should I buy from you?

Be first with a purpose A personal brand is in many ways synonymous with your reputation, the way others see you. Are you an expert? What do you represent? What do you stand for? What thoughts come to mind as soon as someone hears your name? People recognise your name, what you’re working on, what you offer and what you’re about. It answers the question how does working with me help them?

Be known for something specific Meeting standards, however lofty those standards may be, won’t help you stand out. So go the extra mile. Be the entrepreneur who makes a few journeys a week to personally check in with customers. Be the founderer who consistently gives opportunities to more junior members of the team. Be known as the employee who responds quicker, acts faster, or always follows up.

Build Your expertise. The world is changing fast, make sure you are constantly learning and identify an area where you will be better than others, don’t be a ‘Jack of all trades’. Concentrate on your expertise. Once you have identified and developed this, make the most of it by seeking out opportunities to demonstrate your skills. Don’t be afraid to tell people about what you’ve created. Not to boast, but to demonstrate if you’ve genuinely innovated, people are will want to know about it.

Focus on the things that make you different. What makes you, you? Concentrate on the positives on both personal as well as professional level. Consider the way you react in everyday situations, whether it’s the way you communicate, your creativity, or the way you think and process information. Become really, really good at what differentiates you, or be so good they can’t ignore you!

Make yourself visible. This does not mean claiming undue credit or being anything less than humble, it means focusing on having a high-impact that will likely have visible results, knocking them for six and sharing the results. Blow your own trumpet, but be consistent – every move you make either reinforces your brand or violates it. Also participate in larger conversations and encourage those around you, it’s less about broadcasting yourself, and more about contributing as a community member.

Work harder than everyone else. Nothing – nothing – is a substitute for hard work. Look around: How many people are working as hard as they can? Very few. The best way to stand out is to out-work everyone else. It’s also the easiest way, because you’ll be the only one trying. I can’t say how many times I’ve been in a meeting where no one wanted to take on a task, even very simple ones. Be the guy that takes on stuff and gets it done. Being known for actually doing stuff and not just being the smartest is key.

Be authentic. Be honest, be open and be yourself – you will attract the sort of people you want to work with and have as clients. Whatever you do should be authentic. Be yourself. Don’t think of your brand as anything other than you being you. Listen more than you talk. Help more than be needy. Share more than you take. Get to know people and continue to learn.

Building a personal brand is first and foremost developing an understanding of your true self, and then sharing that with the world. Take your masks off and don’t be afraid of being vulnerable. If you want to stand out from the crowd, be yourself. The more you try to be like other people, the more you will recede into the background noise.

Don’t be afraid to let your own character show in what you do and in how you present yourself. Sure, you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but you’re not in this to make everyone happy. Never forget people connect with other people. If you don’t appear to be a real person, or if it just looks like you’re faking it, how likely do you think others are to trust you? Even if they do buy into your fake persona for a while, the slightest bit of inconsistency could prove problematic.

Live in your learning zone No matter how well you know your area of expertise, it would be wise to remember that things are changing at a faster rate than ever before, and you have to stay up-to-date with the latest changes and trends.

It takes time to build your personal brand. If you fail to stay relevant, all of your effort will be wasted. If you don’t want to be discredited, then you’ll want to keep learning. If you’re not growing, then you’re stagnating, and that’s the last thing you want to do as an entrepreneur.

Your personal brand matters. Your brand is your reputation. It’s your calling card. It’s what you’re known for and how people experience you. It’s about bringing who you are to what you do and how you do it. Delivering your brand clearly and consistently will create a memorable experience in the minds of those you interact with and can open doors to new opportunities.

Hilda Alice Ogden (nee Crabtree) was Weatherfield’s answer to Carmen Miranda. While Miranda wore fruit in her hair, Hilda favoured curlers and headscarf, as if her hairdo were permanently in preparation for a glamorous invitation that never came. When she warbled in a reedy, affected soprano (usually as she dusted the Rovers Return), those on the receiving end knew Hilda was in the room.

A fictional character maybe, but it captured all the elements of a compelling personal brand, endearing and enduring, full of humour, personality and memorable traits. Hilda left Coronation Street on Christmas Day 1987, she sang Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye, in her trademark trilling voice. It was watched by an audience of 26.65 million people, one of the highest audiences in British television history. I think she had established a memorable personal brand.

John Coltrane: startups and all that jazz

I’ve been a clumsy, enthusiastic saxophone player for several years, someway off Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become anything close to consistently good, but I’m able to knock out a few recognisable tunes and get folks’ toes tapping.

As part of learning the instrument, you have to be able to improvise, playing with my teacher in a jazz jamming ‘free flow’ session to stretch your style, and speed of thought, playing chord progressions as spontaneous practice. Alas my concrete fingers constrain my dexterity, but playing jazz is fun and a chance to energise yourself.

My favourite saxophonist is the late American John Coltrane, also known as ‘Trane’. Coltrane pioneered the use of modes in jazz and was later at the forefront of free jazz. He played with some of the greatest jazz exponents, including trumpeter Miles Davis and pianist Thelonious Monk.

Despite a relatively brief career – his solo career wasn’t launched until aged 33 in 1960 and he was dead by 1967 – Coltrane is among the most important figures in jazz. With a wealth of posthumously released material, Coltrane was a protean player who changed his style radically over his career.

Whilst taking jobs outside music, Coltrane attended the Ornstein School of Music and began playing in local clubs. In 1946 he switched from alto to tenor sax having met the iconic Charlie Parker, and in 1951 joined a big band led by Dizzy Gillespie, a septet, and on March 1 1951 he took his first solo on record during a performance of We Love to Boogie with Gillespie.

In 1955 he was hired by Miles Davis and began to record profusely, but he failed to kick his heroin habit and Davis fired him in 1956, only to reunite in 1957. Coltrane also joined the Thelonious Monk Quartet and during this period he developed a technique of playing several notes at once.

Coltrane’s second album was cut for Blue Note Records. This was Blue Train. From here on, his recording were noted for the ‘sheets of sound’ playing style. He also developed a ‘modal’ playing style, improvisations based on scales rather than chords, heard best on the album Kind of Blue, released in 1959, which became one of the best-selling and most acclaimed recordings in the history of jazz.

To truly know Coltrane’s work is to hear every note in every context, my favourites being his chord substitution cycles known as ‘Coltrane changes’, heard on Giant Steps (1959), generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely played jazz composition. His development of these altered chord progression cycles led to further experimentation with improvised melody and harmony that he continued throughout his career.

In April 1960 he formally launched his solo career, increasingly playing soprano sax as well as tenor. In the wake of commercial success, his style was frequently dubbed ‘avant-garde’ or ‘free’, noted in a 16-minue improvisation of Chasin’ the Trane in 1961. Thereafter, he continued to play a middle ground between traditional and free playing.

Coltrane’s rich productivity of releases in 1966 were the last recordings during his lifetime, as he died suddenly in July 1967 of liver cancer. He left behind a considerable body in unreleased work that has been posthumously issued. He won the 1981 Grammy for Best Jazz Performance for Bye Bye Blackbirds, a live recording made in 1962, and he was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, 25 years after his death.

Coltrane is one of jazz’s most influential musicians, stemming from an appetite for experimentation, taking chances and devoting himself to innovation in his craft. His name lives on, his 100 albums on iTunes each a compositional realisation, execution and recording from the mind, mouth and flurrying digits of the late, exponentially great Trane.

Coltrane was a jazz entrepreneur, he did what any startup leader does: he improvised. They invent novel responses and take calculated risks without a scripted plan or a safety net that guarantees specific outcomes. They don’t dwell on mistakes or stifle ideas. In short, they say ‘yes to the mess’ that is today’s hurried, harried, innovative and fertile world of startups. This is exactly what great jazz musicians do.

In his revelatory book, Yes to the Mess, jazz pianist and management student Frank Barrett shows how this improvisational ‘jazz mind-set’ and the skills that go along with it are essential for effective startup leadership. He describes how like skilled jazz players, startup leaders need to master the art of unlearning, perform and experiment simultaneously, and take turns soloing and supporting each other.

Yes to the Mess vividly shows how the principles of jazz thinking and performance can help startup leaders to develop these critical skills. Indeed, Coltrane believed that musical creativity was an act of discovery. He thought that the music already existed, and it was his role as an artist to explore, to look for a sound that lay outside traditional boundaries. He knew that spontaneous creativity was the business of jazz. With less than 1% of the notes on the written page, he made up the rest on the fly – no going back to correct mistakes or rethink a passage.

So let’s look at the lessons startup entrepreneurs can learn from jazz greats like Coltrane:

Playing it safe gets you nowhere If you don’t take risks you’ll never excel. Playing it safe all the time becomes the most dangerous move of all. Deviate from routines. Rote activity doesn’t lead to the path of innovation or disruptive technology.

Jazz follows a basic chord progression with a simple beginning, middle and end. In startups, we also start with minimal structures. Iterations begin as prototypes progress and then final aesthetics, allowing us to identify what works and what doesn’t throughout the iterative phases of product innovation.

There are no do-overs in live performances For every hour in a performance setting, you should spend five hours practicing. Athletes do this, musicians do this – muscle memory is no different to being in front of a new potential investor or client. So why aren’t you doing this?

A favourite saying of jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis was: If you’re not making a mistake, it’s a mistake. Endemic to jazz, errors push musicians to reach beyond their comfort zones. Jazz musicians assume that you can take any bad situation and make it into a good situation. It’s what you do with the notes that counts, but practice is key to developing your skills and style.

Listening to those around you is more important than what you play yourself If you’re the one talking all the time, you’re not learning anything. Listen, absorb what you hear, and use the information to make a conscious choice about whatever you’re facing.

In jazz performances, members vary their sounds and provoke others to respond, creating new music through collaboration. Similarly in startups, there is constant ideation and creation to disrupt, efforts to simplify the complicated and generate new ideas, but this collaboration happens best when everyone is working and listening together.

There’s a time to stand out as a soloist and a time to be a team player You rocked a project. However, it’s more likely the case that your team rocked a project, together. Katie was on top of the customer pitch, Susie got the product demo sorted, James nailed the process map. The best startup leaders are those that make others sound and look good.

In jazz, it is common for individual performers to alternate between lead and supporting roles in a single performance. Startups should employ a similar approach to develop the team and bring new thinking to the forefront.

Expect surprises and adversity, since jazz (and startup life) is about how you respond and adapt If running a startup was always smooth sailing, and it followed the notes on the score, everyone would do it. That being said, the old adage applies, that ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’, so anticipate hurdles and maximise your team’s effort to jump over them.

Jazz has its roots in real-time, collaborative innovation, just like the act of starting and growing ventures. If you’re not actively seeking new challenges and ways to expand your horizons, living the ups and downs, you are falling behind.

Jazz musicians often borrow from the past to create new music in the present. In startups, every past project acts as a library of inspiration and fuel for future work.

Don’t seek linear growth alone A jazz-driven approach requires the constant revision of assumptions and lessons learned from failure. There is no such thing as a mistake in jazz – come along and listen to me play! Coltrane built off of a constant change of pace to create new sounds. Startups should also embrace errors and accept new possibilities as they adapt, solve problems and improve inefficiencies.

Equally when developing their own technique and style, jazz musicians practice together, feeding off of each other to inspire creativity. Startups should foster similar innovation by designing their workspace in a way that encourages chance encounters and conversations between functional teams. A microcosm of a provocative learning nurtures an aesthetic of openness and surprise.

Rely on minimal structure and maximum autonomy A key lesson is that startup founders, like jazz musicians, need to, in Barrett’s words, interpret vague cues, face unstructured tasks, process incomplete knowledge and take action anyway. Musicians prepare themselves to be spontaneous. Startups can and must do the same.

To the uninitiated, jazz seems like chaos, whereas the reality is that it’s very ordered, underpinning the structure of apparent randomness is a long tradition of education and practice.

You can see a jam session as an effort to break down hierarchy. In a jam session, rank doesn’t matter. What matters is your ability, your willingness to take a risk, your spirit of both camaraderie and good-natured com-petition, and your wits in the heat of the moment. The jam session addresses a problem: How do you learn from other talented professionals that you don’t ordinarily get an opportunity to work with?

Listen closely to move as one As in business, communication is a crucial element of jazz. If you watch closely what’s happening between the musicians, you will see that without timely communication among the members they would never perform at their highest level. Just watch the different solos and see how the other members support the soloist and you will be surprised on the amount of dynamic emotion that is created.

Sometimes you’ll see jazz musicians performing in complete sync, changing tempos, ending the piece together, yet with no visible cues among them. Are they communicating by telepathy? No, they’re actually listening very closely to one another.

A jazz player listens in two special ways. Firstly, they ‘listen with generosity’, listening for the beauty, brilliance and ingenuity of their band mates, encouraging the expression of their virtuoso talents. Secondly, they listen to the silence between the notes. In business, listening rather than talking is a key skill. Whether you are listening upwards, listening downwards, or listening sideways in your startup, listen closely so you can move as one.

Find your own sound In today’s competitive environment it’s vital you differentiate yourself from the competition, to stand out from the undifferentiated greys of the pack and in living colour, show your uniqueness.

John Coltrane knew this instinctively, he pulled to the head of the pack by finding his own sound. Coltrane teaches us that you have to be authentically yourself, to find what’s right for you, leading from your own place of uniqueness. Trying to be what others want you to be will lead ultimately to failure. You have to find what you do best, and find what is best about you.

Coltrane played jazz as smooth and cool, as a rage, his solos never seemed to begin or end. Coltrane wasn’t methodical, but wasn’t messy either. His sax playing was a conversation, a give and take, a connection and a conversation between himself, his instrument and his audience. He said, I start in the middle of a sentence, and move in both directions at once – his spirit of adventure, improvisation and uniqueness captures the essence of an entrepreneur and their startup bravura.