Free Coordinates…

For good communication…

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  • Published: Jun 3rd, 2020
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Wild for weeds…

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Rough hawkbit, cat’s ear, sow thistles, tagwort, viper’s bugloss, mallows, self-heal, love-in-a-mist, wild mignonette, rosebay willowherb, creeping buttercup – AKA ‘weeds’. According to Alex Morss, research shows that these colourfully named but often overlooked plants are heavy hitters when it comes to nectar and pollen. In other words, they’re bees’ best mates, and a growing number of street botanists are bringing them to our attention through the simple act of chalking the names of our autotrophic friends wherever they find them.

As one London chalker says, “I’ll keep labelling as I go on my daily walks. I think it’s really tapped into where people are right now. Botanical chalking gives a quick blast of nature connection, as the words encourage you to look up and notice the tree above you, the leaves, the bark, the insects, the sky. And that’s all good for mental health. None of us can manage that much – living through a global pandemic is quite enough to be getting on with. But it’s brought me a great amount of joy.”

An instantly lovable offshoot of the wider growth in plant awareness and advocacy, this green-fingered graffiti is a great example of using the right words in the right way to make a difference. So long live weeds, and long live words. And a big thank you to everyone who brings the two together for our understanding and enjoyment.

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  • Published: Mar 1st, 2019
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To go…to testify…

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To the Wellcome Collection, to see an excellent exhibition on Living with Buildings. It features Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ winning work on the Doctors of the World Global Clinic. Designed to be constructed in one day by doctors and nurses in the field, the clinic is a big step on from the tents and shipping containers the international health charity usually has to turn to when providing critical medical care in often far flung places around the world.

From initial ideas…









to finished version…









…the clinic is a plywood wonder.

And Doctors of the World is a wonder, too. Formed in 1980 to help the many Vietnamese refugees who had fled the country after the Vietnam War, its aim is “to go where others will not, to testify to the intolerable, and to volunteer.” In an age when it’s increasingly fashionable and indeed good for every organisation to have a purpose, this one really strikes home and sticks in the mind. I reckon it’s that great phrase in the middle: to testify to the intolerable. Meaningful and memorable – it makes it clear that Doctors of the World not only brings help but also bears witness. A mighty fine combination.

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  • Published: Dec 4th, 2018
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The long why…

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In Japan, home to more centenarians than any other country, the island of Okinawa is known as “land of the immortals”. It’s where over 1,000 people aged over 100 live.

How come so many Okinawans live so long? Having a reason for living makes a big difference. According to longevity expert Dan Buettner, focusing on your purpose can add up to seven years to your life. So it’s no surprise that on Okinawa people set up friendship groups known as ‘moai’, which means ‘meeting for a common purpose’. Across Japan there’s a rather lovely word for this purposeful way of living: ‘ikigai’ – ‘the reason you get up in the morning’.

For people, and for companies, the secret of a long life is to have a strong why. So if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution as we head towards 2019, why not find and/or fine tune your ikigai. Here’s to a long and happy life for all.

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  • Published: May 8th, 2018
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Apple’s core…

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Back in 1997, recently reinstated CEO Steve Jobs stood up in front of his staff and gave his own inimitable take on what Apple, at the time in desperate need of a turnaround in its fortunes, at its core was all about:

“Our customers want to know who is Apple and what is it that we stand for. Where do we fit in this world? What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done. Although we do that well. We do that better than almost anybody, in some cases. But Apple is about something more than that. Apple at the core – its core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better…and that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that actually do…”

The rest is history, the history of arguably the most loved and certainly one of the most valuable brands in the world today.

It’s a testament to being clear about your core and sticking to it, and an encouragement to all of us to be brave and think different.

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  • Published: Jan 20th, 2018
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Do less, obsess…

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Riffing on New Year’s resolutions, the FT’s Andrew Hill explores how doing less, rather than more, could well be the thing. But as he points out, doing less is only half the story…

“Academic Morten Hansen … cites his compatriot Roald Amundsen, who won the race to be the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911. … Prof Hansen believes Amundsen’s success came down to his obsessive focus on using only dogs and sleds to transport his team. Scott was better resourced …but the complexity of the Scott approach proved fatal. … Amundsen, who had concentrated on getting the best dogs, the best handlers and the best training, was far quicker. “By the time Amundsen reached the pole, he was more than 300 miles ahead,” writes Prof Hansen. “Amundsen had chosen one method and mastered it. He had done less, then obsessed. … You have to obsess because if you don’t you don’t have an advantage over the people who are doing more things.”

Prof Hansen studied the performance of 5,000 people and discovered that those who pursued a strategy of ‘do less, then obsess’ ranked 25 percentage points higher than those who did not embrace the practice. … The best performers in the study … matched passion with a purpose.”

How does this play out for writers? Sylvia Plath melodies the essence: “I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life.”

From crafting poetry to reaching the South Pole – there’s a lot going for obsessively focusing on one thing to excel at it. Especially when you bring brilliant specialists together in teams to combine and amplify their excellence.

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  • Published: Nov 13th, 2017
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Build a good name…

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Back in 2007, I co-created and ran an executive day for the Henley Management College. It focused on how to enhance reputation through core purpose. The gist: build your good name (your reputation) with stories that pivot around your big why (your core purpose).

A good few years on from that enjoyable day, and reputation, more than ever, is in the air. Purpose, too, and of course stories. Rohan Silva bigs up purpose by way of his favourite quote from business – Hewlett Packard co-founder David Packard’s: “Many people assume, wrongly, that the purpose of a company is to make money… a group of people get together and exist as an institution we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately — they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental.”

Prompted by Taylor Swift’s release of Reputation, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney explores the r-word in the FT: “The public persona that we present to the world grows ever more significant. In the digital age reputation is inescapable. Not a day goes by without our judging something or being judged ourselves.”

But I’d like to leave the last word to the inestimable Patti Smith, who tells this story: “When I was really young, William Burroughs told me: ‘Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work, and make the right choices, and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.”

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  • Published: Dec 14th, 2015
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Connecting the dots…

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Hot on the heels of being bought up by Nikkei, the FT has seen the value of declaring its shared mission: “to translate information into knowledge with timely, accurate reporting and analysis around the clock from Beijing to Brussels, Tokyo to New York and London to Johannesburg. With our global networks, we connect the dots in an increasingly interconnected world.”

While lacking the fire and zing of “Without fear and without favour”, it is nevertheless a decent statement and underlines the value of making your purpose clear for all to see and react to. As Grant Thornton UK’s chief executive Sacha Romanovitch puts it, “a strong sense of purpose helps a venture thrive.” It gives people a shared cause to rally around, a big why to spur them on, a point of guidance for day-to-day decisions and actions.

So a strong purpose is both glue and fuel – a potent mix for any organisation or endeavour.


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  • Published: Jul 16th, 2015
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The best salami…

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Long-time corporate bull basher Lucy Kellaway recently targeted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s 1,500 word email to all staff telling them about the company’s new mission statement. As well as taking aim at the language, she questions Mr Nadella’s belief that “Every great company has an enduring mission.” “This sounds good, only it is not true,” says Ms Kellaway. “I like to think that the Financial Times is a great company; we have endured 127 years without an official mission.” Yet I’d argue that the FT does have a long-standing purpose, and is all the better for it. It might not be cast in a mission statement, but it is there atop the leaders page of every single edition: “Without fear and without favour.” Indeed it was there on the first front page back in 1888: “A financial paper for the City of London, carrying the banner of Without Fear and Without Favour, cannot fail for lack of raison d’être.”

This unswerving promise put me in mind of The Economist‘s creation story: “First published in September 1843 to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”

Missions, purposes, whys – call them what you will, when crafted to galvanise in a way that rings true they are truly valuable. My own personal favourite is attributed to the old Italian Communist Party: “The best salami for everyone.” Tasty.

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  • Published: Jan 9th, 2015
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Once more, with feeling…

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The FT’s Michael Skapinker sets out seven lessons in management he has learnt over the last decade. One stands out for me: “Decide what your business stands for and tell everyone until you can no longer stand the sound of your voice. Every business has an ethos: the way it does things, or does things best. You need to decide what yours is, and you need to keep telling people, both inside and outside. Whether they believe you depends on how true it is and how much sense it makes.”

It also depends on how much feeling you put into the way you get it across. Combining truth with emotion is a powerful formula. So yes, never stop saying what you stand for, but make sure you put your heart into.

Once more, with feeling.

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  • Published: Jun 27th, 2014
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Poets take risks…

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Far from “conniving at its own irrelevance” by failing to engage with ordinary people, poetry continues to fight on the front lines of our lovable language. 

As George Szirtes points out, poetry’s task is not to play safe by finding “a pretty way of saying plain things”. From ee cummings’ abandoning of capitals to Tricky’s “My brain thinks bomb-like”, poets take risks – pushing and pulling the way we use and think about words into weird and wonderful new corners and possibilities, pumping new life into our tongue.

In his A Note on War Poetry, TS Eliot talks of “the abstract conception of private experience at its greatest intensity becoming universal, which we call ‘poetry’.”

Small wonder wartime yields such intense universal expression. Take Isaac Rosenberg’s twisting visceral Louse Hunting:

Nudes – stark aglisten

Yelling in lurid glee. Grinning faces of fiends

And raging limbs

Whirl over the floor one fire,

For a shirt verminously busy

Yon soldier tore from his throat

With oaths

Godhead might shrink at, but not the lice.

And soon the shirt was aflare

Over the candle he’d lit while we lay…”

“We feel poetry rather understand it,” says George Szirtes. I’d like to temper that assertion by saying we feel poetry and understand ourselves better for it. Which is why poetry will always be relevant and, for a good many of us, well loved.


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