Alien Concepts


letter to the Guardian sent by one Dinah Hall from Devon a couple of years ago, reads as follows;

“There’s nothing like teenage diaries for putting momentous historical events in perspective.  This is my entry for 20 July 1969. “I went to arts centre (by myself!) in yellow cords and blouse. Ian was there but he didn’t speak to me. Got rhyme put in my handbag from someone who’s apparently got a crush on me. It’s Nicholas I think. UGH. Man landed on moon.”

Listening to some of this summer’s headlines, I wonder if we’ll look back at 2015 in the same way.

Expenses scandal emerges.

Leadership race continues.

Scientists ‘excited’ by finding Earth 2.0

The discovery that a haul of planets discovered by Nasa’s Kepler telescope includes a “world sharing many characteristics with Earth”, is astonishing.

It reminds me of that line by the late Arthur C Clarke;

“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

Consider this; it is perfectly possible that, right now, a spaceship is on its way to Earth. Our first intergalactic visitors.


Are they nervous? When might they arrive? And what will they make of our planet when they get here?

Given the length of the journey, they may have been, to quote The Carpenters, “observing our Earth” over the course of some time. In which case, they will surely notice what we have done to the place. I doubt they will be impressed.

How do we explain the forests, swamps, plains and lakes which have disappeared?  The 23% of  mammal species now described as threatened?  Or that the planet is warming faster than at any point in the past 10,000 years, contributing to the potential mass extinction of wild animals?

All of this, before we have even started discussing the way we “get on” as a species.

How fanciful! An exercise in imagining… the arrival of visitors from an unknown place.

Here’s the thing…

They are coming.

Of this I am completely and utterly certain.

Today they may be hidden. One day they will be with us.

So what is this? A bizarre prediction of an alien invasion?

No. Simply another way of looking at the world.

Our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will, one day, arrive on Earth.

In time, they will see what we have done.

They will ask questions. And we’ll have to answer them.

As we are drawn into the excitement of today, are we thinking about the world in a thousand years? In ten thousand ? In a million?

We read about the top regrets of the dying.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

How powerful to be able to read these lessons while there is still time to change our lives.

What if time was running out to save our planet?

To ask ourselves the bigger questions, we need to put ourselves in  the shoes not of our peers or our ancestors, but of our descendants.

An alien concept? Perhaps.

But whether through small step or giant leaps, this is what we must do.




With great power comes great responsibility


At least two things happened in 1996.

Firstly, I completed my A-Levels, spending some of the time indoors, climbing the walls, attempting to revise.

 More hours were spent outside, building what turned out to be a handful of lifelong friendships.

Speaking of climbing the walls, one other thing happened that summer; Tom Holland was born. For those who haven’t been following the recent entertainment news, Tom is the new Spider Man. Which makes him look rather young, and me feel rather old.

The rest of this post is over on StartUps…

High Societies


This week, I had dinner with a group of students and their teacher. Between them they run, and in some cases are about to take over, their college entrepreneurship society.

As a group they were incredibly bright, ambitious, fun and enthusiastic. As we chatted, I heard about some of the guests they had welcomed to the group. Like many colleges and universities, the entrepreneurship society seems to be buzzing. The core of their activity is about inviting an often well-known individual to give a talk about their story, and the lessons learned. So far, so good, however I shared a few ideas which I think could help the group, and groups like them, to become even more successful.

1) Keep inviting founders to share their stories, and in addition, invite people (often non-business people) to come to talk to them about big “problems worth solving”. That’s the essence of the most exciting entrepreneurship . Why not ask a surgeon to come and talk about the health of the nation? Or someone to speak about pollution, or literacy, or loneliness in older people?

2) Talks can be inspiring, especially when they contain lessons learned, and practical tips. In addition, invite your guests to teach the group to “do” something. Often entrepreneurs leave having simply told their story. In fact, there are a number of things at which they excel, and could pass on. It could be cold-calling. It might be how to write an email that anyone will respond to, how to speak in public, how to read a P&L forecast. Try to think how every guest could leave having taught you a skill which you can use for life.

3) Ask every guest for the three business books they would recommend. Last night’s group were up to speed on Peter Thiel, Eric Ries and Ben Horowitz, as I would have expected. They hadn’t read Dale Carnegie, or Malcolm Gladwell. This simple question could lead, I think, to some fascinating conversations.

Across the UK, entrepreneurship societies seem to be in rude health. Organisations like Founders 4 Schools, Generate London and Speakers For Schools are helping to connect inspiring individuals with young people. Often, the core of this is a brilliant talk, and I understand the appeal of keeping things to this simple formula.

That said, I’d encourage college and university societies to think about how they really get the most from their guests. To consider their knowledge, their skills, their networks, their ability to listen and respond to questions, and their creativity. Most of all, I hope that we, as business people, will be even more creative with how we invest our time. We have an opportunity to inspire and inform, encourage and reassure. Beyond that, to teach. So that when the students have forgotten our names and lost our business cards, the skills we passed on will continue to help them to thrive.




8 guaranteed ways to totally smash your ‘to do’ list in 2015

time is running out

There is a certain type of person who, despite having the same number of hours in the day as the rest of us, seems to get an unusual amount done.

Whether running businesses or ultra-marathons, they just keep making things happen. Call them successful, call them driven. They are massively productive.

More intriguing, I have found, is their ability to remain thoroughly nice, fun people to spend time with. It’s infuriating, actually, and I could bear it no more. I had to learn their secrets.

I’ve asked them for you, and they’ve told me. A dozen of the most productive people I know have spilled the beans. From practical pointers to new ways of looking at the world, here are some top tips for a productive year ahead.

1. Structure your week

Richard Moross, founder of sets aside Friday mornings for non-MOO meetings. This could be for helping someone out or giving some advice. “That way the diary doesn’t get littered with non-MOO stuff (which is still important) and my time is naturally limited to a sort of office-hours slot.”

Richard (who, for the founder of a printing business is anything but stationery), also tries to work from home on a Wednesday morning. “Working from home rocks.” With hundreds of thousands of customers, so does his business.

Perhaps next Monday is already starting to look a little different. If so, take a tip from Amol Rajan, editing the Independent at the ripe-old age of… 31. He recommends setting yourself some weekly aims.

Not for him the long lunches of Fleet Street’s past. “Meet people for breakfast rather than lunch: morning is the time of day when you’re most productive, and taking out lunch can interrupt the flow of your day.”

2. Get off to a good start

Starting at the very beginning sounds good. Sadly, for some of us, our to-do list is more deary me, than do-re-me.

The rest of this article is available at 

The Connector Unit

Pont Laviolette

A few months ago, I went to an event hosted by the Behavioural Insights Team, also known as the Nudge Unit. They are in the business of trying to “apply behavioural insights in support of social purpose goals”. A practical example would be by prompting people to join the Organ Donor Register using reciprocity messages (‘if you needed an organ, would you take one?’), which added 100,000 people to the register in one year. Clever stuff.

The group was celebrating its new home, and successful transition from being part of Government to being a limited company, housed within Nesta.

The team talked a little about the origins of the unit, and made reference to a recommendation by one of its founders, David Halpern, that a future Government should set up such an organisation.

My mind began to wander as I wondered what sort of unit might be needed today…

I think I know…

It strikes me that the single most powerful thing you can do to solve a problem is to introduce two people.

Some people excel at this – we call them connectors.

We need a Connector Unit. 

This Connector Unit would do a series of useful things;

1) Map. Who is already connected and to whom? It would do this using a range of tools, including Twitter and LinkedIn. Why? Partly to understand who the super-connectors are within a sector or industry and cultivate those relationships. Mostly to understand who isn’t connected, and, where useful, to do something about it. My strong hunch is that Government is not currently doing this in any sophisticated way.

2) Make introductions. Day by day, pair by pair, the unit would identify, and connect. All introductions would be tracked over time, using a tool like,  and would come with the appropriate health warnings – by making a connection, the unit would not be guaranteeing that all due diligence on both parties had been carried out.

3) Ask Questions. What problems are people facing and who would they like to meet? By more clearly understanding the challenges people face, we can be better connectors.

We know that creative breakthroughs occur when people from different worlds connect. We know that connectors are valuable. And yet we put up with the ongoing complaints that “things just aren’t joined up”, “people don’t talk to each other” and “everything happens in silos”.

The process of connecting is too fundamental and game-changing to be left to a few generous souls. It needs a dedicated unit. In time, all civil servants will receive tips on making useful introductions.

Where in Government could you start such a thing?

Might this be a future spin out?

I’d welcome your thoughts on this.

My own hunch is that you wouldn’t start it within Government at all.

You’d start outside, independent and entrepreneurial.

You’d prove your worth, show value and build trust.

Then you’d spin it in.