I could perhaps talk about the continued pallid state of the commodity markets; with the exception of gold of course, but instead have chosen to share some random thoughts and observations from the past month or so.
Rather than an observation specifically on commodity markets, it does sometimes amuse me that for some reason people think or imply that the transition to a "New Year", somehow changes the way in which the economy will perform. It is almost as if they are imagining that at the stroke of midnight on 31 December, a switch gets thrown that changes the current paradigm. If only it were true.
The reality of course is 1 January is very much the same as 31st of December, plus or minus the odd hangover perhaps.
One of the benefits of being self-employed and under employed, is the opportunity to read, of which I have done much in the past nine months or so.
As a schoolboy I was never much of a reader, and had to be coaxed and cajoled into reading Thomas Hardy's, Far from the Madding Crowd, in order to sit an English Literacy exam. I was expected to have some understanding of the story and its characters and be able to convey this understanding to the examiners. A task at which I ultimately failed.
Whilst at school, I was however, fascinated by the works of the First World War poets, who through their words managed so vividly, to convey the horror of that conflict.
By the time that I got to university, nearly all of my reading, out of necessity, was of a technical nature, although during this period I did also manage to make it all the way through Lord of the Rings. My choice of this book being based on my enjoyment of having the Hobbit read to me as a young child in primary school. I still haven't seen the film, perhaps because I fear that Peter Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien's master piece might fracture my own imaginings.
In the many years that have elapsed since graduating from the Camborne School of Mines, my enjoyment of reading has grown. My preferred genre are police and spy thrillers. So John Le Carré, Lynda La Plante, Frederick Forsyth, David Baldacci are always popular choices, and I recently devoured the Stieg Larsson Trilogy, although I have not yet chosen to purchase the fourth volume written by another Swede based on the same characters.
Whilst I believe that a change in writer can work with a TV series, where characters are being developed, new ones being added and perhaps older ones disposed of, I can't quite see it working with a book because so much of the enjoyment of reading is in the style of the author. The way in which they put words together to describe the scene, the particular aspects of a person's character that they choose to highlight and to what extent they provide clues to the book's climax. Each of us has our own writing style and even after reading through Larsson’s books several times, I think it would be difficult to recreate, exactly his style of writing. Perhaps it is no more than a cynical money grab by Larsson's family and publisher, in which case my quibbles about style won't matter, because many will have already purchased the book based on their enjoyment of the other three and the prospect of spending more time with Lisbeth and Mikael.
Bill Bryson has provided some light entertainment along the way. Humour is one genre where there can be significant cultural differences in what is deemed funny by one reader and not by another. The British sense of humour, inherited by Australians and Kiwis, appears to be different to that enjoyed by Americans. So it is perhaps unusual and pleasing to find an American whose sense of humour is aligned with that of my British heritage. Perhaps he owes this to his wife and to his time spent living in the UK.
Much of my other reading has been of tomes dedicated to leadership. I say leadership rather than management, as I believe that there is an important distinction between managing people and leading them. In this context I regard Liz Wiseman's book Multipliers, as a must read for all who aspire to leadership. Of course leadership is not reserved for those at the top of an organisation!
I am currently three quarters of the way through Patrick Dixon’s book, The Future Of (Almost) Everything. Dixon is a former cancer surgeon but has worked as a futurist for the past three decades. His book is fascinating on many levels.
He has an enormous grasp of the world and human interaction from economics to evolving technologies, from terrorism to corporate globalisation and from big pharma and biotech to world politics.
He has a good writing style, one that is succinct and the structure of his book breaks issues down into digestible bite-size pieces.
He highlights how, in some respects, people's daily lives in a broad sense have changed little in the last 50 years, yet in other regards we have advanced hugely in terms of technology, medicine and political and social stability.
He does provide some interesting and much needed perspective on the current world issues.
As an example, he notes that whilst the media make much of the current reign of terror waged by IS in Iraq and Syria, and how it may effect those distant from such conflicts, the global risk of any person on earth witnessing an act of terror is a 1 in 35,000, which is the same as the lifetime risk of any one of us being struck by lightning.
However, because most terrorist activity is confined to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Lebanon, Somalia and Nigeria, unless one lives in those countries or the areas of those countries affected by insurgents, the risk reduces to 1 in 350,000.
He concludes this section by stating that, “Thus the greatest challenge in the future will be to restore a sense of reality, so that people can go about their lives without exaggerated fears”.
On the subject of democracy, which he describes as "being in trouble", he observes that only 40% of the world live in nations with free and fair elections and many have moved to autocracy in the past decade. In trying to determine whether democracy or autocracy results in a generally better outcome for the populous of the country, he cites that in the US only 31% of the population are happy with the direction of their nation, yet in China the figure is 83%! Certainly something to ponder. I do recall a boss who, on more than one occasion, said that he believed in benign dictatorship.
To finish my commentary on books, I should also mention Future Brain by Dr Jenny Brockis. Aimed at the corporate world, it nonetheless approaches brain health from a personal perspective.
I was encouraged to find that I am doing many (but not all) of the things that Jenny recommends for maintaining a healthy brain. But I was fascinated by the scale of the opportunities being missed by business to foster employee brain health, which in turn leads to better business performance and hence impacts the bottom line. Again, a book that I would urge every aspiring leader to read.
Continuing with the random nature of this ramble. Someone needs to take a serious look at inventory management for the outdoor shop BCF. Perhaps there is an opportunity for someone out there?
During the course of the Christmas period I had reason to go into a local BCF outlet. Whilst waiting at the checkout, the person in front of me asked if a particular item was available. The woman on the checkout confirmed that they had none in stock at that outlet, so the customer asked if they had the item available at one of the other stores. After checking, she confirmed that they did indeed have one at their Malaga store, but then added that, "it's showing it on the screen but I can't be sure that there is one there as this is terribly unreliable".
Steve Simpson would no doubt have a field day with BCF, because the woman on the checkout said out loud an Unwritten Ground Rule (UGR), which goes something like this, "around here, the inventory management system is useless and cannot be relied upon".
I wonder how many employees of BCF know this UGR and yet management appear oblivious to it otherwise they would (you hope) have done something about it.
That it is possible to do something about it I have no doubt. Telcos and shopping centres can track your movements using your mobile phone. Many shops use radio frequency identification tags (RFID’s) to protect stock from theft. Although given the frequency with which the alarms go off at most Myers stores and the lack of response from Myers employees, perhaps this is a bad example.
My point is that the technology exists to better manage BCF's stock if they were a) aware of the problem, and b) chose to do something about it. Whilst no one would pretend that it would be 100% accurate, it sounds like it would be a vast improvement on their current system.
To conclude the ramble, I would like to touch on modern marketing, or at least its online manifestation.
In trying to promote my business I have started to read more and more about how best to market online. This leads one down the rabbit warren of online marketers. What I have discovered appears to me to be like an onion with layer upon layer of people trying to sell you a program to help you launch or sell your "product", the "product" being your own program to help others launch or sell their "product" or so on, ad infinitum. Whilst everyone has their own spin, the pitch is always the same.
On the upside I do now know the "standard" structure of online marketing. There is the "free offer" in order to get you to sign up, which means they now have your email address and can bombard you with promotional material. This is followed by the "low-cost" offer, which is intended to help them recoup some of their marketing costs and gain your trust, before they pitch to you the "core offer", which is the costly "product" that makes the money. So just remember this the next time you sign up for a "free offer"!
Mind you, having said all that, I have certainly soaked up some good advice from the "free offers" for as long as I felt that I was getting some benefit, after which I hit the unsubscribe button.
Here’s hoping that you don’t decide to Unsubscribe me!
Liz Wiseman & Multipliers - http://thewisemangroup.com/
Patrick Dixon - http://www.globalchange.com/
Dr Jenny Brockis - http://www.drjennybrockis.com/
Steve Simpson & UGR's - http://www.ugrs.net/