Evolving Strategy

You can’t have a ‘Business Strategy’.

You can have a marketing strategy, or an information management strategy, or a production strategy; but it is not possible to have one overarching plan that defines and coordinates all the different aspects of a business (unless of course your business consists entirely of production, and you have no involvement with the decision-making processes that control human resources or accounting or marketing…)

People are irrational.

They pretend to be driven by logic and reason, but their actual zones of logic and reason are removed from the real word. Why else would we have TV commercials featuring talking rodents or fake Italian tenors or animated telephones-on-wheels? And these adverts are not for anything juvenile or frivolous, but for car insurance, a commodity which is actually compulsory.

And when you start to formulate your ‘business strategy’ you will realise that to secure the commitment of your staff, you will need to appeal to the irrational aspects of their nature. Because if you couch your business proposals in a reasonable, logical framework, they will be exceedingly dull – and indistinguishable from dozens of rival business proposals. For example, this extract is taken from the European Coatings Journal (Sept 2011):

“Our strategy is clear: to grow in established businesses through innovation, regional expansion, and development of our commercial activities. With regard to acquisitions, we will be concentrating on existing and, of course, new areas of business.”

Which sounds terribly wholesome and conventional without saying anything remotely interesting. If every firm has a near-identical mission statement, is there any point in having one at all?

 

Random Thoughts…

Well, last night I stayed in and watched TV instead of going out to Paddy’s Goose and drinking Kronenbourg and chatting to middle-aged transvestites and listening to mid-seventies soul and AOR. Although in a different existence I could be sitting in a trendy arthouse cinema bar, drinking Michelob, chatting to drama students and listening to the 1937 recordings of Schoenberg and Brahms.

I switched channels just in time to catch Elbow starting their monster anthem, ‘One Day Like This’, a daringly simple tune, poignant lyric and really corny Hey-Jude-style coda.  I’ve heard the song numerous times on CD and live broadcasts, but I’m always impressed by Garvey’s voice. Even against a wash of radiant strings his singing is still distinctly (no other word will do) beautiful.

It was ten years ago, in November 2001, that I went to see Yes in concert at the Apollo; their legendary keyboard player, Rick Wakeman, was away performing elsewhere so they had recruited a small string orchestra instead. And again, Jon Anderson’s voice has an unearthly presence that somehow makes it stand out against soaring guitars and shimmering violins even when blending in perfectly.

But this time (November 2011) Yes are performing again at the Apollo without Anderson. Apparently they have secured the services of a young tribute-band vocalist who sounds exactly like the real thing. Normally I like tribute acts; they are generally younger and prettier than the real thing (not difficult when you want to perform Jumpin’ Jack Flash) and they bring a sense of humour to the performance which the original artists abandoned when they became tax exiles.

I’m not sure exactly why, but.the idea of watching Yes without their lead singer leaves me cold. Perhaps they should have not announced the fact, and simply toured with JA on hand to give press interviews, while allowing the young imposter to perform on stage. And what a marvellous story it would make when they revealed all, in two years’ time, in the band memoirs!

 

Ruins…

Johm Soane adored ancient ruins. As an apprentice Architect, he was lucky enough to travel to Greece and Italy, where he prepared detailed sketches of the stone relics. These buildings were considered to be the supreme examples of perfect design; a few scattered pillars would evoke visions of majestic temples, courtyards and fora. Later, when designing homes for English aristocrats, Soane and his contemporaries would incorporate arches, pillars and other defining elements from the Classical world.

Meanwhile, we now have some modern ruins to enjoy; a typical manufacturing site will include miles of pipework, huge concrete dams and galvanised chimneys. And when the business suffers (as all must inevitably do) terminal decline, various parts of the site will collapse, exposing the structure of the building and leading us to wonder at the sequence of tasks which would have been daily performed in such a place. Indeed, the pictures of Mason Coatings in Derby (or Sterling Tech in Trafford Park) show an abstract wall of metal shapes, as though Paul Nash had been commissioned to paint the wreckage of a submarine.

Here in Manchester, we have a couple of metaphysical ruins; one is the infamous ‘B-of-the-Bang’ sculpture, an explosion of radiating spines which was intended to represent the excitement and energy of the area around the Man City stadium. The edifice was duly constructed at a cost of several million pounds, and gave a striking new note to the Eastlands horizon. Then – of course – the sculpture began to disintegrate, with huge metal poles breaking free and falling to the ground, which led to it being dismantled (at enormous cost) for safety reasons. All that now remains is a memory…

And the other unreal ruin is a glorious building which never came into being. The centre of the Gay Village includes a large plot of land which was bought by developers, with a view to creating a high-rise block of luxury apartments (‘…executive living space, leisure facilites and business portals…’). In the year 2009, the UK economy abruptly stalled, and only the foundations of the building remain, a forlorn expanse of dull beige concrete.

Saturday Morning, Laundrette

 landscape1

My local laundrette is a scruffy place; the machines are elderly and ill-maintained. I usually do my washing on Saturday mornings, and while the various garments dance in their detergent soup I amuse myself by reading the cheap magazines left behind by other customers. These journals are filled with tales of misery; stories of sex-change operations which went horribly wrong, or unscrupulous rogues who fleeced their wives and girlfriends out of money and property.

Sometimes I glance around at the surroundings; fake-wood panelling, torn nylon curtains, dead wasps lying in the dusty windowsill, and some ghastly metallic wallpaper, embossed with a heavy baroque design and lit by a bare fluorescent strip-light.

But last Saturday, for a change, I started reading a library book; Foucault’s ‘The Uses of Pleasure’, which discusses the odd theories believed by the ancients. Apparently the Greeks considered semen to originate in the brain, from where it was transported to the genitals by veins and arteries. Presumably classical Greece would have also had its share of ruthless womanisers, whose adventures would be recounted in the tabloid journals of the day. Some unfortunate girl with white limbs, made pregnant and jilted by a charmer, told our reporter: “‘E said ‘e cared for me, ‘e did…an’ I believed ‘im, cos ‘e told me ‘is veins was clogged up wiv Humour, and I couldn’t get in the family way.”

But no doubt in 200 years or so, people – if any remain alive, after the epidemics and world wars and harsh winters and food shortages – will gaze fondly back at the 21st century and marvel at how naive we all were. Our understanding of DNA is patchy; we are beginning to scrape together some ideas about particle physics. Human psychology is still an enigma, which is why we all watch plays (and movies) and listen to music,  trying hard to discern the questions that lurk in the gloom.

It’s Christmas Eve, 2015: exactly twenty years ago I was with my sister and our pet dog Suzy, running happily round Bodmin Moor on a bright cold day. I’ve just returned from breakfast at my local Tesco store, arriving home in time to find my washing machine entering its last spin cycle. I settled down on the sofa and decided to watch the DVD set which came with my CD of ‘Sehnsucht’ by Schiller, which I purchased in Dusseldorf about eight years ago. One of the features on the disc is a video for the song ‘Wunschtraum’, where a young woman is in a beautiful laundrette, a solitary line of washing machines gleaming in a perfect red parade, the unique cordeau des trompettes marines, as she drifts into a languid fantasy about a dishy guy…

Meanwhile, I have been at work now for about two months; my boss seems a bit remote at times. Perhaps she feels awkward knowing that I am being paid much less than my colleagues, even though I have several years’ experience beyond them. The test procedures at work are also slightly suspect – we try to calibrate a machine using a doubly-inappropriate standard.

…and my washing machine finishes, the high-pitched whine of the drum gradually drifting down through the registers, at the same time as Herr Schiller’s elegant electronic waterfall of turquoise satin gradually takes shape in the air….

…each garment tells a story; this is the shirt I wore to Nick’s barbecue in 2003, this is the t-shirt I bought at Cropredy in 1998, and all the laundrettes I have been to over the years…
Oxford where the proprietor was a middle aged alcoholic, and where I would sit reading second-hand paperbacks of Sci-Fi short stories;
Castle Bromwich, and Ward End where every Saturday morning I would read the Guardian;
Swinton, where I would admire the crowds of dead wasps lying in the window, and where I would read ‘Chat’ magazine, including the remarkable story about a woman who had been taken out drinking by her workmates the night before her wedding. Of course she woke up with a raging headache in a strange hotel room, having missed her wedding (for which mummy and daddy had been saving up since she was born)…