Got 4 minutes ish?

Watch Mo Gawdat, Chief Business Officer at Google, interviewed by Alex Thomson on Channel 4 news (aired April 9)

Centuries and schools of philosophy are condensed into a pithy yet modest summary and algorithm, and brought like a pocket survival guide right into the 21st century.

Are there better summaries than this?

’Happiness is not about what the world gives you.
Happiness is about what you think about what the world gives you.’

Be happy.


So its 1994, and young Jeff Bezos is noticing that internet usage is growing a gang-busters-y 1000s of percent year on year, and resolves to leave Wall Street.

An earlier name for the soon-to-registered ‘Amazon’ was ‘Cadabra’.
He envisaged a web-based business so that books, initially, would whoosh from his garage to our homes as if – by magic.

Click your fingers. Done.
Speed has some amazing effects.

When Google researched search times, teams discovered that cutting search time from one second to a tenth of a second changed user-behaviour. Respondents could not only search more, but also more deeply. From observation, ‘ways of thinking’ changed.

Our lives really, really have speeded up.
Whatever we want can appear in the blink of an eye.
It’s like waving a magic wand.
If speed is the new black (and fast v slow the new powerful v weak), what is the new……..magic?

Speed is having some odd effects on us, and on our sense of value and relationship with others.
A drone delivering a purchase within minutes or a contactless payment in microseconds divorces us from the effects, in the real world, of our activities.

The Slow Movement can barely keep up (sorry).

It’s been noticeable recently when working with teams that silences are felt to be terribly uncomfortable. (While always true to some extent, the new discomfort is a reaching-for-a-device, make-something-happen discomfort rather than an ‘isn’t anyone going to say anything?’ unease.)  It takes a while for everyone to get to a stage of pausing, wondering, and thinking without pressure. Especially in front of others.

Too much of a luxury, perhaps?
Too self-indulgent?

Which leads to a bizarre worry while hurtling towards this jointly constructed future.
What if our idea of what is magical changes from waving a wand for instant ‘whim satisfaction’ into something about timelessness – and pointlessness?

Might watching paint dry feel magical to a future generation?


D80pxtreeoes ‘being mean’ matter in business?

Google makes a lot of money (it was reported today to have become the world’s most valuable listed company) yet secured agreement from a supine HMRC to pay a minuscule amount of tax.

What are they doing? What are we meant to think?

Two possible reasons why Google might so monumentally mis-manage the customer perception of its financial probity:

One. They feel so secure, unassailable, powerful that they needn’t worry about what anyone thinks.

Two. They have been living in an echo chamber for so long, hearing only their own publicity, and seeing everything as binary and code-solvable, that they have developed a sort of brand – blindness.

(It’s probably both, isn’t it?)

But for the sake of good manners, let’s ignore the massive lobbying investment, the placing of key staff in high places, the revolving door of employment with the senior echelons of the civil service that only companies like BP used to enjoy, that would support the first reason.

Lets look at the brand – blind, or brand – stupid, reason.

Because it is brand – stupid.

Google is committing a basic category error: discussing non-rational matters with the rational vocabulary of an accountant.

Successful brands build trust, are transparent and are authentic. Consumers – us – assess such qualities and behaviours as each snippet of information about the brand and its behaviour, from any source, is collected and processed. Assessment involves gut feeling, instinct, brand experience and perception; not numbers, or compliance scores.

So every time Google repeats that it is acting within the law as it offers up this derisory sum of tax it blows open another hole in its own footwear.

Google insists rationally that the numbers are right, when everything in our experience is telling us that something about the behaviour here is very, very, wrong.

Trust, transparency, authenticity are about whether we feel the brand ‘gets it’, and ‘gets us’.

Google doesn’t ‘get it’. They are being mean.

Google now feels like the guy who never buys a round, but can always say he offered. He just carefully chooses the time when nearly everyone has gone home.

Google now feels like that not –quite – popular work colleague who always remembers a sore wrist when the art bag is to be carried. But comes right along for the fun parts.

Google now feels like the smart city guy I stood behind in a café the other day who took the 50p coin out of the tips jar where it had fallen and replaced it with the 20p he had intended. (Was the effect that had on the poor harried barrista really worth 30p?)

What these familiar situations have in common is an inability to see where we are all connected, that the wellbeing of one interlinks with the wellbeing of another. Where it’s the intangible – the spirit behind an action that matters.

The intangible for Google here is the lasting impression of the guy (who can easily afford it) scrabbling back 30 p from the tip jar. It’s mean, and that matters in business. At some point, it will work its way, tangibly, through to the balance sheet.

Never mind ‘do no evil’. How about just not being mean?

Come on, Google. Just put your hand in your pocket and offer to buy the next round.

Just offer….


H80pxtreeave you noticed lots of interviews going on in public places recently?

Perhaps privacy doesn’t matter so much, and we all just choose to tune in and out? Whatever the reason for the apparent rise, I’m definitely able to hear just about every word of the typical café interview these days. And they’re quite boring.

I double-checked with a couple of reliable young persons who have recently been through the process.
The consensus is that interview questions really have become more tedious.  I’m told the top faves are still ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years time’, ‘What are your main strengths and weaknesses’, and that the opener is nearly always ‘Tell me about yourself’.

Penny Hunt's drawing of a cake to be used in interview processes

And those questions copied from newer corporate cultures (‘If you were a pizza topping what would you be?’) sound amazingly weird when you hear them asked out in the open air – in ‘real’ surroundings. (The Google interview process enjoyed some brief fame for this. If we were to make up, I don’t know, ‘How many knitting needles do you think there are in Brisbane’ we’d be on the sensible side of what used to go on.)

Even the start of the long recruitment dance – the CV – is so hard to judge and get ‘right’: it’s so hard not to sound too ‘shiny’. Perhaps it’s the CV format that sets the tone for the interview mood. Unfortunately.  The comedian Alexi Sale used to include a lovely CV suggestion in one of his riffs about the soul-perils of work. He suggested that everyone has some sort of everyday brilliant talent, and that this should the core of any resumé.

Are you someone who can always find a parking place, for example? Perhaps you can do that amazingly loud fingers-in- mouth whistle that summons cabs from miles away? Perhaps you can eat the middle out of a biscuit?  The really worthwhile point in his suggestion I think is to watch out that we don’t train and massage away any clue to the everyday, real, person who has put themselves forward for a leap into the unknown – the new job.

And isn’t being grounded and real rather a crucial and desirable quality in any role?  We can teach skills. Experience will come. Who is this (brave) person?  Wouldn’t it be good to break out of that dehumanizing language of the recruitment process?  Wouldn’t it be more constructive to have a play with questions that actually let someone be themselves and share their own sense of balance and perspective?  No need to be passionate about everything.  No need to have to seem professionally keen all the time

I asked a client about this. We felt the only pace to solve it was the pub.

Amazingly it worked.

No, truly.

  • We realised that what we really wanted when interviewing others was to find answers to two of our own burning questions:
  • “Would we have a fun time with this person on a long train journey”
  • “Does this person have a life?”

The pub magic ran out pretty quickly of course, and the debate continues: but we got to….

  • ‘ Anything made you laugh today?’
  • ‘ How old do you feel inside?’

(and of course offer our own internal ages. Mine’s 12, I think) before getting waylaid by possible CV alternatives.
I thought a freshly baked cake was an excellent idea.