IYMC

You probably have no idea what the title of this blog post means; that was the intention. Is Your Message Clear? (IYMC) This post is about how the thoughtless use of initialisations can have a negative impact on the impression you are trying to make or the message you are delivering. My post on 21st March was in a similar vein dealing with acronyms, this post focusses on two letter initialisations. Think of it as reinforcement rather than repetition.

There are two recent examples that stand out. The first was during an international Zoom meeting. One of the attendees was referring to the challenges her business had faced at the beginning of coronavirus restrictions imposed in South Africa. She had just said that she was not very PC when her video froze. I was relieved that I was going to escape hearing some blunt inappropriate comments. Political Correctness has a bad reputation; however, I often find that when people say they are not very PC it is an excuse to say unpleasant things. Her video then restarted without any loss of content, so I heard “…literate. I struggled with the move to online meetings and having to get to grips with things like Zoom and Microsoft Teams”. I now felt sympathetic to her situation, picturing her stressed sitting in front of her Personal Computer. Had the video not restarted and we moved on to the next person I may have left that meeting with completely the wrong impression of her.

I could only think of three meanings of PC, the third being Police Constable. I did a little bit of research and was amazed to find there are 325 listed meanings. I should have been able to think of some of those: Parish Council, Privy Council, Public Convenience and Petty Cash.

The second example is from a few hours later during an online networking meeting based in the UK. A new attendee was giving his 1-minute presentation explaining what he did and that he was also setting up another business with a focus on training covering PM …. I have no idea what he said next as I was wondering whether he was going to only do the training in the afternoon or whether he had a different meaning of PM. Through my brain fog I heard him talk about Project Management, could that be what he meant by PM? I missed the rest of the of what he was saying as I was trying to remember if I had ever heard Project Management referred to as PM. I have not, but this sent me off thinking about the project management methodology PRINCE which was wonderfully renamed in a Civil Service acronym competition from PRINCE to PRINCE. I should explain that originally it meant PROMPT II IN the CCTA Environment after the competition it meant PRojects IN Controlled Environments. Civil Servants certainly know how to have fun. By the time I returned my attention back to the meeting he had finished speaking so I missed his message and have no idea what he did. My research discovered that there are 195 different meaning of PM and Project Management was not listed as one of them.  

Hopefully, that illustrates the damage that careless use of initialisations can cause. If you want to know what PROMPT and CCTA (used above) stand for use GOOGLE, which is not an acronym. The origin of the name is however interesting.

Finally, a word of warning, do not use initials when talking to a farmer about Artificial Intelligence or a nurse about Public Relations, you may see them reaching for gloves.

Honesty Box

The seed of an idea for these business blogs has to grow and I nurture it until it is ready to harvest, then I prepare it so you can digest it. If you found the content useful please consider popping some money into the honesty box. Unlike buying eggs at the farm gate, you cannot put the cash in a box because you are reading this online. You can click on the Buy Me a Coffee link below which will take you to a page where by magic (nifty software) a small amount of money will disappear from your account and appear in mine. Don’t worry you are in control all the time. If the post wasn’t helpful, please leave a comment suggesting how it can be improved.

If you like what I say you can buy me a coffee if you want to.

Business ideas hatchery

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Is your efficiency effective?

In the interests of efficiency, I am keeping this post short; however, it will be effective.

Some definitions will start the process of deciding if your efficiency is effective.

Efficiency: noun – the state or quality of being efficient.

Efficient: adjective – working in a well-organized and competent way.

Effective: adjective – successful in producing a desired or intended result.

It’s entirely possible to work in a well organised and competent way without producing the desired result for all sorts of reasons. Bing Crosby sung about being busy; the first two and last two lines are particularly relevant.

We’re busy doin’ nothin’

Workin’ the whole day through

Never do, never do, never do have the time

Never do have the time

Being busy and being efficient isn’t the most important thing in business, being effective is. Being lazy and doing things in a very roundabout way will not generate great results, so busy and efficient are important, but they are trumped by effective.

To be effective (producing a desired result) obviously requires you to know what result you want and how to get there, and that is where things get tricky. You need to know what is important and what measures to use.

Here is a theoretical example: A meal delivery service launched having done plenty of research and found that the key elements customers wanted were consistently high-quality food and reliable delivery. Testing with customers showed that the meals rated highly for quality. The company invested in software to calculate the optimum route and sequence for deliveries. The delivery system was super-efficient. The drivers were happy, as they were paid per item delivered and could deliver lots of items in a day, and the customers received their meals on time. Initially everything went well then, the company started to loose customers. There were no complaints about quality, price or delivery and surveys show these were not issues. The company arranged some focus groups to see what was going on. “Your food is just as good as xxxxxx and so is the delivery, I prefer xxxxxx because Andre the driver always asks how I am, and we have a little chat”. The drive for efficiency had driven that ‘nice’ part of the customer experience out of the equation compromising effectiveness. Slack in the delivery process was a necessary element of providing an effective solution; happy customers.

Honesty Box

The seed of an idea for these business blogs has to grow and I nurture it until it is ready to harvest, then I prepare it so you can digest it. If you found the content useful please consider popping some money into the honesty box. Unlike buying eggs at the farm gate, you cannot put the cash in a box because you are reading this online. You can click on the Buy Me a Coffee link below which will take you to a page where by magic (nifty software) a small amount of money will disappear from your account and appear in mine. Don’t worry you are in control all the time. If the post wasn’t helpful, please leave a comment suggesting how it can be improved.

If you like what I say you can buy me a coffee if you want to.

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Is your thinking on point?

I have some great discussions on business topics during Wisdoms123 Chats, on Wednesday we considered the ‘Trolley Problem’, a series of thought experiments in ethics and psychology. What has that got to do with business I hear you ask (or would do if it were not for the wonders of technology that allows you to read this hundreds of miles out of earshot). It has a lot to do with business, especially small businesses.

The essence of the problem is:

There is a runaway trolley barrelling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

  • Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
  • Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

The trolley problem has been the subject of many surveys in which about 90% of respondents have chosen to kill the one and save the five.

There is a variant involving a fat man:

As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man standing next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?

Resistance to this course of action seems strong; when asked, a majority of people will approve of pulling the switch to save a net of four lives but will disapprove of pushing the fat man to save a net of four lives.

I wonder what an outside observer would think the man on the bridge should do, I imagine they will be much more for pushing the fat man off the bridge to save a net of four lives.

You can see that where you are, and what you are doing, affects the decisions you make; remote and pulling levers leads to one decision, up close and involved in the action (pushing the man off the bridge) results in a different decision and being an outsider observer with no ‘skin in the game’ provides another view.

Small business owners are so involved in the business that they often make decisions that are not optimal, working hard at stuff without producing great results. Sometimes they are so busy they do not see the problems; they do not lift their heads up and see what is coming down the track. Business is not a series of thought experiments in ethics and psychology, if you want to succeed you are going to have to push the fat man off the bridge, metaphorically not literally, that is illegal. It can be useful to get the help of an outside observer who can take the emotion out of the decision making and view things differently.

Then:

“I’ve got a great product, I’m just not good at selling”

becomes

“I don’t really believe that my product is that great”

“I cannot afford to outsource time-draining admin tasks e.g., bookkeeping.”

becomes

“If I had extra time in the business I wouldn’t be able to generate much income, it would certainly be less than a bookkeeper earns” – Probably time to retrain as a bookkeeper.

Step away and be the observer watching the drama unfold on the bridge and you may be prepared to take some drastic action. Perhaps pushing the product you love off a hypothetical bridge because it doesn’t earn its keep. Or giving a few of your customers a shove because they are more trouble than they are worth; sales are vanity, it’s profit that matters.  Some of your processes might need an elbow, often things are done because we like doing them or because we have always done them rather than because it’s the most efficient way. 

Thought experiments can be very practical and profitable.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that “personal” dilemmas (like pushing a man off a footbridge) preferentially engage brain regions associated with emotion, whereas “impersonal” dilemmas (like diverting the trolley by flipping a switch) preferentially engaged regions associated with controlled reasoning. Now I’m not suggesting we should all be like Mr Spock from Star Trek (devoid of emotion); however, I’m sure a preponderance of controlled reasoning is best in business, although not good for the fat man.

Honesty Box

The seed of an idea for these business blogs has to grow and I nurture it until it is ready to harvest, then I prepare it so you can digest it. If you found the content useful please consider popping some money into the honesty box. Unlike buying eggs at the farm gate, you cannot put the cash in a box because you are reading this online. You can click on the Buy Me a Coffee link below which will take you to a page where by magic (nifty software) a small amount of money will disappear from your account and appear in mine. Don’t worry you are in control all the time. If the post wasn’t helpful, please leave a comment suggesting how it can be improved.

If you like what I say you can buy me a coffee if you want to.

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Networking is about connecting

Networking done well is about connecting and that means active listening, finding common ground and building rapport. If you are not familiar with active listening, or not good at it, there is some useful information here.  With active listening you will soon understand someone’s ‘map of the world’ and be able to meet them there. The following example should help.

I was on a networking meeting recently and it followed the normal pattern; about half the attendees mentally switched off after they had given their pitch and about half were listening to the others. As I was speaking, I noticed one person in particular nodding at some of the things I said, a physical sign that she was actively listening. I was therefore not surprised when, shortly after the meeting, she connected with me on LinkedIn and suggested a Zoom one-to-one.  Once we had settled on a day and time, she came back with “Your Zoom or Mine?” Humour is a good way to build rapport.

When we had our online meeting, we soon established that a concern for the environment was the biggest thing we had in common. I explained that my approach was to try to influence how people thought about climate change and biodiversity loss, I was not one for direct action and was unsure whether some of Extinction Rebellion’s actions damaged the cause more than helped it. However, I do agree that some dramatic action was needed to wake up politicians and other world leaders who are sleepwalking into a climate change nightmare. She told me that her sister was a member of Extinction Rebellion and in the April 2019, London protest she had glued her breasts to the floor outside the Goldman Sachs office in Fleet Street. She said it in a tone, and with a look on her face, which said she admired her sister’s commitment to her beliefs, but was not keen on her tactics and all that was wrapped in sisterly love. We were both now on the same map of the world. I was also in awe of her sister. I don’t normally agree with sexual exploitation; however, on this occasion I couldn’t stop myself admiring how this spirited lady had used her assets to exploit gullible men, Sun readers. Climate change became a big story in the Sun “BOOBY TRAP Eco-warrior glues her BREASTS to the road in most bizarre Extinction Rebellion stunt yet”.

We continued chatting learning more about each other, her husband was keen on taking on big physical challenges so more common ground. I was able to suggest some useful contacts for her and after the meeting she sent me some helpful information. It was a productive and enjoyable meeting; she did not try to sell me anything and I did not try to sell her anything; however, I know our businesses will benefit from the connection.

Rather than sell, sell, sell and tell, tell, tell actively listen, build rapport, have great conversations and create beautiful networks.

Honesty Box

The seed of an idea for these business blogs has to grow and I nurture it until it is ready to harvest, then I prepare it so you can digest it. If you found the content useful please consider popping some money into the honesty box. Unlike buying eggs at the farm gate, you cannot put the cash in a box because you are reading this online. You can click on the Buy Me a Coffee link below which will take you to a page where by magic (nifty software) a small amount of money will disappear from your account and appear in mine. Don’t worry you are in control all the time. If the post wasn’t helpful, please leave a comment suggesting how it can be improved.

If you like what I say you can buy me a coffee if you want to.

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Less is more, more or less

Very often when I talk to new business owners and, more worryingly, established businesses owners about what the target market is for their products the answer is everyone. It’s nice if everyone buys what you are selling, but it is not a good idea to sell to everyone, one because that is a crowded market with lots of people trying to sell into it and two, believe me on this, not everyone wants your shiny new product or service.

If you are a crisp seller with this attitude it may be tempting to advertise in ‘Health & Fitness Nut Weekly’* due to its cheap rates and rocketing circulation figures, but sales will be disappointing. A high fat, high salt snack will not be appealing to goji berry munching fitness fanatics. If you are still convinced your product will be bought by everyone fine, I will not try to persuade you otherwise; however, I am absolutely convinced that you do not want to market to everyone. Marketing involves time and money so you will want to get the best return possible. Some people will buy more than others and some people will be sold to less by your competitors, so these are the people to target, and this is where segmentation, personas and less comes in. Think in terms of planting seeds in drills, or even singly in holes, rather than scattering them all over the place. Less seeds, but more harvestable plants.

Personas are a representation of the goals and behaviours of a hypothesized group of customers. They are not a single customer. Getting enough detail, but not too much is key. Georgina having two children, Imogen and Tarquin, driving a blue Volvo and owning a Bichon Frise, called Fluffy, might be starting to be too specific; however, differentiating between a lapdog or a larger breed might be useful and is that Volvo an estate or a sporty model and how old is it?

It is not about dreaming up a fictitious character, it is a personalised composite sketch of the information you know about segments of your target market. Creating one needs data and research. Start with some quantitative analysis of your customer database, this will at least give you some basic demographic information, buying frequency, order value and may indicate seasonal trends.

Next you need to fill in the gaps with some qualitative research and analysis. The best way to do that is to talk to customers and prospective customers. Radical and scary I know, but it will give you a wealth of useful information. You are then ready to build the persona or personas. When you have done that perform a reality check; do your products or services match what the personas would want or need.

Now comes the fun part – using the persona. You would be amazed how many people generate a persona, including a nice stock image, stick it on the wall then forget about it. Use it every time you generate anything aimed at a customer and make sure anyone (internal or external) who is writing copy, managing social media, etc. has a copy of each persona and understands them.

If you perform an internet search you will find plenty of information about creating personas and templates you can use. Some of it is good, some is not so good, just remember the principles above and that less is more until you have reach the optimum point then less is less. Oh and one last thing not everyone will be your customer.

Honesty Box

The seed of an idea for these business blogs has to grow and I nurture it until it is ready to harvest, then I prepare it so you can digest it. If you found it useful please consider popping some money into the honesty box. Unlike buying eggs at the farm gate you cannot put the cash in a box because you are reading this online. You can click on the Buy Me a Coffee link below which will take you to a page where by magic (nifty software) a small amount of money will disappear from your account and appear in mine. Don’t worry you are in control all the time. If the post wasn’t helpful please leave a comment suggesting how it can be improved.

If you like what I say you can buy me a coffee if you want to.

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* ‘Health & Fitness Nut Weekly’ – this is a fictitious publication

Are you guilty of not giving tuppence?

I actually mean two pence but that does not have the same heritage as tuppence. If you have a look at the ‘References in periodicals archive’ section of the page for tuppence under the Idioms tab on the Free Dictionary website, you will see what I mean (you may have to scroll down a bit).

Two pence is how much you save by using a three letter acronym (TLA) rather than saying the words in full. That figure is calculated on minimum wage, if you are fortunate enough to be on average wage, and who is because the figure is distorted by the obscene amount paid to some bosses, it is about six pence. What you lose is harder to value. To calculate the saving all I had to do was time myself saying three letter acronym and saying TLA deduct one from the other, do a bit of maths and I had a value. There is no doubt in my mind that acronyms tend to obfuscate rather than inform. Worse than that they neuter the message.

I spent a few years as a Compliance Officer in Financial Services and during that time TCF was an omnipresent acronym. Banks and other large financial services companies spent a lot of time ticking boxes to make sure they were TCF compliant, a requirement of the regulator, but paid little attention to what the initials stood for – Treating Customers Fairly (action, people, justice). You can see why the banks had to pay out lots of compensation due to the mis-selling scandals, where they didn’t treat customers fairly.

So, what has got me hot under the collar now. Today I listened to a Diversity and Inclusion Advisor talk about how equality, diversity and inclusion benefited companies. They quoted a Harvard Business Review article reporting on research that found multidisciplinary teams that combine the collective capabilities of women and men, people of different cultural heritage, and younger and older workers are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. That is a misquote because the article was about how simply throwing a mix of people together doesn’t guarantee high performance; it requires inclusive leadership. Still equality, diversity and inclusion are a good thing, reducing it to ED & I or more commonly EDI is not a good thing.

If you look under the ‘Acronyms’ tab on the Free Dictionary you will find 46 different meanings for EDI. The most commonly used meaning is Electronic Data Interchange with Equality, Diversity and Inclusion being some way down the list. If it is important say it in full and appreciate the richness of the words and the meanings they convey.

Equality – the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities.

Diversity – variety, a range of different things or people.

Inclusion – the action or state of including or of being included within a group.

ED & I could be anything, even a hospital department. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is about rights, fairness, people, groups, richness.

If it is important say it.

If you like what I say you can buy me a coffee if you want to.

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Networking is like owning a dog

It’s said that eyes are the window to the soul; it’s hard to make eye contact during online networking so we cannot see into people’s souls; however, the screen does give us a window to their minds.

I was on a meeting the other day and one of the attendees, after giving his one-minute pitch, could be seen looking to one side and concentrating on what I assume was another screen and typing away. He was so intent on what was on his other screen that had I said “Hey Mr xxx you are a complete idiot” he would not have heard. When he gave his presentation, I thought oh he might be able to help my friend’s businesses. When I witnessed his behaviour during the rest of the meeting, I realised that he was only interested in helping himself and had no interest in others.

That was perhaps the most extreme example I have seen, unfortunately there have been many more times when I have seen similar, but less extreme behaviour, people switching off when others are speaking; how arrogant to expect them to listen to you and then not having the common decency to listen to them. People constantly checking their phones is also a bugbear, by all means use your mobile to connect with someone who is in the meeting on LinkedIn, but don’t spend all your time focused on your mobile rather than on the people talking.

Words are only part of communication; actions are also important. During an online networking meeting you are seen for a lot longer than you are heard, make sure you don’t sabotage what you said by what you do.

Just like a dog is for life not just Christmas, networking is for the whole session not just your pitch.

I wonder when we go back to physical networking whether that guy will get his laptop out and start working after he has given his one-minute pitch.

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www.trailrunningman.com

Two powerful business tools

I’m going to tell you about two business tools that, if used wisely, will revolutionize your business and your life. They are free. If you like them feel free to buy me a coffee, or better still a beer, after lockdown is over.

On Friday I attended, as usual, a breakfast networking event, unfortunately virtually. It is a little different from the normal networking where people give their sales pitch, then mentally switch off or play with their phones while others give their pitch, before mentally turning off or playing with their phones. We all know each other at that meeting so talk about our week, problems and any highlights.  One woman talked about how busy she was and how at some point in time she hopes she can get some sort of work/life balance. This has been a constant theme since just after the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Someone suggested a local business consultant could help her identify how she could get her business running better and perhaps identify significant time saving opportunities. Several people agreed with the usefulness of this suggestion and then provided testimonials for the person recommended. I could tell by the set of the woman’s jaw that this suggestion would not be taken up. I think some people want, or need, to be busy and to think the world treats them badly.

Work/life balance is a state of mind. Use the thought of that woman in the networking meeting as a spanner to adjust the work/life balance in your mind. If that doesn’t work use the thought of the heart attack or stroke you are storing up, or missing your children growing up and possibly getting divorced as a hammer to crack that tough nut.

Earlier in the week I attended another networking event and decided not to play the sales pitch game. Instead, I told people to Google Trailrunningman to find out what I do and then proceeded to promote things that two other people are doing. The first person is an ultrarunner, runs a successful small business employing several people and writes poetry. I was promoting her poetry book; I am a fellow writer, although not a poet. The second person is an aspiring ultrarunner, planning to tackle a tough event in May to raise money for a local hospice. I was promoting his fundraising efforts. He is a busy sales and presentation coach and has two podcast series which are regularly updated. The first is business focused and the other is a series of interviews with runners about how to train for ultramarathons and what motivates them. Both busy people who find time to put in the extensive training required to run an ultramarathon. They have something in common with people who say they do not have time to run; they all have exactly the same 24 hours in a day to fit everything in.  Unless you are living in extreme poverty what we do with our time is a matter of choice.

So, if you think you haven’t got time to exercise, enjoy nature, learn a language, write poetry, paint or whatever else you yearn to do use the thought of those two runners as a screwdriver to adjust your time allocation dial.

Talking of screwdrivers, I’d be just as happy if you bought me a cocktail rather than a coffee or a beer.

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Don’t waste your money on marketing!

if you are going to sabotage what you do.

I love beer and trying new offerings. There is a lager produced in Cornwall, which is one of my favourites, I have been ordering for home delivery ever since the first lockdown. I am on the brewery’s email list so receive offers and news. I was exciting about a new beer they were promoting and wanted to try it. Being vegan I always check that there are no animal products in the drinks I am buying. The Germans who have ‘The Reinheitsgebot’ (purity of beer regulations rooted in laws introduced in Bavaria in 1516) are horrified by what we put in our beer.

There was no information on the company’s website and the beer was too new to be listed on Barnivore (a website that lists drinks and indicates whether they are vegan) so I emailed the brewery. The email was an example of the triumph of hope over experience; I have emailed the brewery before and got no response. It was the same result this time, despite me sending a reminder email, so I did not buy the new beer. Additionally, I have decided that is it with the company, I will be buying lager from another brewery, not Cornish, but it does have excellent green credentials. I have also unsubscribed from their emails.

Contrast that with my experience of Sandford Orchards, a small cider maker in Devon. The apples they use are grown within a 30-mile radius of the presses. I bought their cider during the summer and signed up to receive emails from them.  A little while ago they sent me an email about a beer that had been produced by the Windsor & Eton Brewery using juice from their apples; Beamquake Graf – apple beer. I liked the sound of that so emailed Sandford Orchards to ask whether it was vegan. I got a quick response to say that they would ask the Eton & Windsor brewery and get back to me. By the end of the day, I got my reply, “it was suitable for vegans”. I placed an order and a few days later was enjoying some excellent beer. I am about to place a repeat order.

The moral of the story is, communicate with your customers and they will stay with you, ignore them and they will leave. More than that communicate well, and they will sing your praises. As you will see I have mentioned Sandford Orchards and not the Cornish brewer, I like to praise publicly and criticise privately; no internet trolling for me.

Rapid and effective communication with customers is even more important when things go wrong. I started a Mindful Chef recipe box subscription during lockdown as a little treat. I chose that particular company because it has a good vegan range and because they are a B Corp (an ethical and environmental standard), so their values are aligned with mine. I’ve loved the food and everything about the company, I no longer see it as a treat but a permanent part of my life. I’m so impressed that I have joined the Mindful Chef Facebook community (the only brand that I have done that with). Most of the posts on there are about how well the dishes have turned out and how much people have enjoyed cooking them. Occasionally there is a post about something going wrong and they always follow the same pattern, “I have been with MC for a long time and this is the first thing that has gone wrong, I contacted the company and very quickly got an apology, and the missing ingredient was delivered the following day” or “I received a credit far in excess of the cost of the missing ingredient”. Sometimes they follow up with “I was with xxxxxx and when things went wrong I could never get through to anyone and it took ages to get things resolved that’s why I changed to MC”

The most effective marketing campaign is keeping existing customers and have them singing your praises. Getting the back office stuff and logistics right isn’t as exciting as fancy straplines, amazing graphics and exotic photo shoots, but it does stop your customers leaking away and wasting all that marketing spend.

A final word on logistics. I have been with Mindful Chef for over six months and have a delivery every two weeks. So a lot of deliveries. Not one of those has been late; they have all arrived on the designated day and within the one-hour time slot communicated to me that morning. The deliveries are made by DPD, a carbon neutral firm which pleases me, and I suspect that they are not as cheap as some other delivery firms. A high-street name chain I have bought from online when shops were closed uses one of those cheaper delivery companies. Out of three orders, one was lost and never arrived, one arrived a day after it was supposed to and the other was two days late. Fortunately, due to lockdown I hadn’t stayed in specially to receive those deliveries, I was at home anyway, still it was frustrating, and I have stopped buying from that business. The small amount they saved by using a cheap, unreliable delivery service will be outweighed by the costs of getting a new customer.

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If you want to try Mindful Chef use this link. You will get 25% off your first four orders (no commitment) and I get a £10 credit (sweet). If that doesn’t work you can use edward@trailrunningman.com in the discount box.

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What can John Otway and a Bunsen burner teach us about the GameStop phenomenon?

The answer to that question is a lot; it can bring some clarity amongst all the hype.

For those of you not familiar with John Otway, and there will be many, he is a musician who first appeared on the music scene in the punk rock era and has continued to be active to the current day, with a range of interesting projects. One was to write a rock opera with John Baine, who’s stage name is Attila the Stockbroker, apposite for this article. It’s fair to say that Otway has not enjoyed massive commercial success. However, he does have a very loyal following of fans and he is very aware of their power and sometimes uses them to pull off publicity stunts. The lyrics from the ‘B’ side of one of his lesser-known singles was voted to be one of the top ten greatest lyrics of all time in a BBC poll. How did that happen?

Market manipulation and the power of a small group of people is not restricted to shenanigans on the financial markets or indeed social media platforms.

One of the stunts pulled off by John Otway fans puts the GameStop/Reddit/Robinhood thing into perspective. In 2002, when some fans asked Otway what he wanted for his birthday, his response was ‘another top ten hit’, and a plan was hatched. He recorded a single ‘Bunsen Burner’ with three different ‘B’ sides so fans would buy three records, not one, and the purchases were all made in one week. It worked, the record made number nine and John Otway was therefore invited to appear on the Top of the Pops TV programme.

What lessons can be learnt from this?

You only need to sell relatively few records in a week to get in the top ten, some say 10,000 or less, so easy to manipulate. Otway’s wheeze of having three different ‘B’ sides enhanced the chance of success. There was little chance of the record staying in the charts, if you have heard the lyrics you would know why. They contain truly cringe worthy lines like ‘let me be your Bunsen burner baby, let me be your naked flameYou’re my little pipette, the favourite piece of apparatus in my chemistry set … you’re the kind of carbon I can date’.

The fans were able to get one record in the top ten for one week, had they tried to get two in there in the same week they would have failed; had they tried to get in all ten spots their efforts would probably not have even registered.

And that is how it is with the Robinhood band and GameStop, a manufactured one-hit-wonder, rather than anything enduring, and I doubt that it would be endearing if we looked deep into the motives behind it. The market capitalisation of GameStop (at the inflated price) is about $22 Billion, now that might seem a big figure, but not in the context of the NASDAQ. Netflix has a market capitalisation over ten times more at $235 Billion, but even that is small compared to the big boys, Alphabet A and Alphabet C (ex Google), both about $1,200 Billion, which is again small compared to Apple, $2,200 Billion.

The day traders collaborating via Reddit might think they are disrupters, but they are just using a pipette to put drops in the ocean and their Bunsen burner is not going to make the big companies feel the heat.

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