Category Archives: People

Advertising that matters

Advertising is the name given to the technique/tool/methodology [you choose] that sees us bombarded daily with mindless messages to buy products and services we don’t need and often don’t want.

Usually with cliched messages that haven’t changed in years.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Used well, advertising is a way to share ideas and values.

It is a way to help an audience understand your view of the world.

This is one of the best examples I have seen in a long time.

Thanks to Ad Week for the original link.


The role of a designer is to rethink how the world works

I love this quote.

It comes from a Fast Company article reviewing a book by Kern and Burn.

Short and simple and it sets a high bar on ambition.

If we define a designer in this way though, doesn’t it allow us all to be designers?

I’m not sure that was the intention when it was written, but if you are rethinking ‘how the world works’ then are you really a designer?

You might not know Photoshop, carry a Macbook and or wear expensive black t-shirts, but if you are rethinking how the world works are you any less a designer than someone working on redesigning his brothers small business site?

Of course not.

But of course, it doesn’t matter.

Being a designer is a mindset. Just as being an artist is …

Or a writer … Or an interior designer … You could be completely crap at it (and many are), but it doesn’t matter. Creativity and art is by definition subjective. It has to be, else you would be an engineer, defining for function within accepted boundaries of what constitutes normal. Of course, there are highly creative engineers, but you get the idea. It is about pushing boundaries and challenging norms; in short, changing the world.

Sounds good to me.

Gary Burt, Designer

Don’t be an idea thief

Never steal others work. Ever. Period.

Show respect, credit it, attribute it and build on top of it if you want to, but never pass it off as your own if it isn’t.

I’m not talking lazy research where you fail to properly credit published work although this is bad enough, I am talking about idea theft. If you are going to propose someone else’s idea, then credit it. Simple as that. It doesn’t matter if it is written down, formally recorded and logged or legally protected. If it belongs to someone else, then give them the credit for this.

Unfortunately, in business the idea thieves are rampant, so beware. Often the worst culprits are senior managers and executives. They should know better, but too often they think that the intellectual ideas of those who work for them are theirs to plunder.


Idea theft is still theft. When you do this you demonstrate that you have the same integrity as a thief stealing from a corner shop. You didn’t need to take it – but you did – and you deserve the loss of respect and dignity for doing so.

There is no difference.

Crediting those who created the idea not only helps those people get the respect they deserve, it means that they are more likely to work with you and want to collaborate on joint initiatives, giving you both increased opportunities. For a manager there is no greater measure of success than being able to lead a team of very smart people who respect you. If you steal their ideas this is impossible.

Isaac Newton is widely credited with the quote that best sums this up, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  He understood that the work he did was adding to a body of existing knowledge.

The academic world quite rightly requires accurate and diligent referencing, reflecting the reality that most ideas are building on the work of others. The corporate world is far less demanding, but never underestimate the risks and dangers of failing to attribute intellectual property.

You may not think I remember that idea that I emailed to you a few months ago that you have now blatantly taken the credit for. Not only do I remember, but the server logs don’t lie.

It is hard to defend against a timestamped email.

Your call.

This article is copyright Gary Burt … reference it, build on it, but please credit me. The WordPress logs don’t lie.


Getting a graduate job in the real world

They lied.

There is no job. Not one that you want.

Careers? Don’t you mean work?

What work exists is often poorly paid, with no prospects and doesn’t use your skills.

Ok, it is not quite that bad … but it is certainly not the world you expected.

Despite what people may think, you did work hard at Uni and learned what you were supposed to. You now have the post nominals to show for it. Unfortunately you also have the debts too. Of course you don’t start repaying the fees until you earn some money, but the debt is still there. Others that you owe money to are not so understanding. They want cash now. You can pay minimum amounts each month, but the bill isn’t shrinking.

And all for what?

Your ambition is deflated, your motivation has disappeared, and your finances are none existant. You are skint, disheartened and starting to get worried about a McJob being a serious career choice.


Not it is tough, but tough luck.

Get over it.

The world has changed. The job market has changed. Employment has changed. You know this; but your parents, the politicians, many others in work don’t know this. Those who have lost their job in the last 5 years know it, but not most of those lucky enough to still have a salary.

The harsh realities of work in 2013 

… and what you can do about it

1) Your parents world of work has almost disappeared.

The world your parents had/have is mostly gone for most recent graduates and has already disappeared for those with low skills.  For them, employment is likely to be low paid and temporary for the foreseeable future. And by this I mean, the rest of their working lives. And by working lives I mean until you die. Retirement is not going to be any different from the life that they have now – just with higher medical bills (and not just in the US, we will all be paying soon). So you keep on working until you cannot. As a graduate, you have a chance to one day enter that elusive group of well paid, highly skilled workers, but don’t bank on your degree being enough. It isn’t. Today you are in the ‘may have potential‘ group. You are still likely to start on lower pay than you want, but at least you have the potential to improve this. Most in the low skilled group do not – not unless they spend a lot of time investing in their own development. Your primary challenge is coming to terms with this, and showing a potential employer that you are a safe bet. Shift your mindset. Stop complaining. Don’t moan. It is what it is. Now learn the rules and start playing the game TO WIN. This is the most important step. If you don’t shift your mindset, you might as well apply to McDonalds now … just don’t rely on getting the job. They might not want you.

2) Your current CV is unlikely to get you the job you want.

Jobs are still being advertised. You can apply, but you a playing a lottery. I’m not saying don’t apply – just don’t rely on this working – not unless your change the way that you think about this. If you do apply, then be the best you can. Most CVs will end up in the bin. Many will be auto-sifted by computers or recruitment agencies. Very few people will be interviewed. The odds are against you. If you apply – make your CV first class. There are some excellent resources available, so READ THEM and FOLLOW THEM. Invest in your future, by investing time in your CV. Get others to check it. You need ZERO spelling mistakes and no grammatical errors. Check the fog level. Make sure the readability is at the right level. Focus on achievements. Never lie. Make it personal, be a person not a robot. Have a PDF, Word and text only version (to copy onto websites). Amend this for EACH application that you want. If you want to mailbomb with generic CVs then expect the reaction to be the same as the junk coming through your mailbox – a fast-track to the bin. Recognise that there is nothing such as a perfect CV, but it must do the best job that it can do in selling you. Ask friends or family who work in HR to give feedback. Share with friends and get comments. Listen carefully to what they say and make a judgement call on whether to change it. You don’t need to have one CV. You can have a ‘safe’ core CV for clearly defined roles or a more creative ambitious one for roles that ask for this, but then build on this. Above all, your CV needs to answer one question ‘why should you hire me?‘. This is NOT the same as ‘here is what I can do‘. Do you really want the job? Then make that message jump out from your CV and application. Never be afraid to apply for any role that you think you can do. Don’t be afraid to try, whatever the requirements ask for. You have your work cut out – and the chances may be close to zero, but small chances are better than none. It may also get you noticed or retained online by an agency, HR department or hiring manager. Whilst on applications … many companies will never contact you once you apply, even to say no. There are some legal reasons, but this is mostly about resources and cost. Personally I think this is disgraceful, but it is a fact. Don’t stress about this. Just keep going. if they don’t reply – fine. Keep going. Don’t judge a company by this. Keep moving forward. Keep applying. Be glad that this is online and you don’t have to pay postage! 200 applications means that you still have several thousand potential employers left to speak to. Blue-chip companies are great – but also the hardest to get into. Don’t forget smaller companies, charities and other not-for-profit organisations. Charities still have paid employees.

3) Your network is best way to get a job

If you have rich, well connected parents with great connections, then use them. You can now skip the rest of this post. The harsh reality of work is who you know still matters. Many will say the only thing that matters. This is what the best schools and Unis provide – great networks. Sorry. I don’t like it, but I don’t get to fix it. So you need to think how you can use this knowledge. Simple – get to know people. You need a network. Don’t wait. You need to start building your own network as soon as you enter Uni, but it is never too late. Connect (Twitter, Facebook, any channel you can] and follow people you respect, can learn from, want to work for. Read what they write, attend events [lots are free] and speak to people. Ask questions at events. Don’t be shy to ask for advice, but spend the time thinking about your question. Never, ever by shy about asking for advice or for help. You will be surprised by how often this works. My Dad used to say, ‘the worst thing that people can say is no’. He was right. But never beg. Put your fears aside and ask. Remember though that your social profile is YOU, so be careful. Either separate personal and professional identities or NEVER post anything personal. if you have a personal profile, keep it personal. Lock down the security and don’t post anything stupid however much you think you have locked it down. Whatever you think of it, employers will check social media – so make sure that they only see positive things. Clean up your online history and fix security and privacy settings. Don’t look to be invisible, as this is just as dangerous – you want to have a life and be found, but think of it as a showroom. A customer should never see the back office or the store room – the same goes for your life.

4) Collaborate for success

Finding a job is mind-numbingly draining. You are forever on a roller-coaster of applications and rejections. Are there others that you can share this time with? This is easier at Uni than after. It doesn’t have to be face to face – although this is preferred. Find people who you will gain energy by collaborating with. If they sap energy – dump them. The collaboration should be a thread of your professional life too. Find others who you can share ideas and thoughts with and invest time and invest mental energy in developing ideas and thoughts. Increasingly your insight is your most valuable asset – not what you do, but how you can interpret and manage an opportunity or problem.

5) Make things happen – get proactive

The most important point of all. Be proactive. Keep moving. Keep pushing forwards. Publish, network, learn, interact, collaborate, read, call, email, follow, comment on … KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

Finally. Good luck.

5 useful resources:

  1. Need a job, invent it article by Thomas Friedman
  2. Lifehacker get hired guide
  3. 99U How to get hired when starting out
  4. Forbes article on referrals
  5. Guardian guide to graduate job hunting

Why your job description should be as short as possible

Don’t write long job descriptions, instead pose exciting challenges that inspire candidates and open a dialogue about what role they can play in helping your company.

Thanks to LinkedIn I am fortunate to be contacted with a lot of prospective opportunities. Most of these follow the same predictable process.

Agency/HR person: I have an exciting role that you may be interested in … can I send you the job description?
Me: [After checking the basics] sure I will have a look …

What then happens is that I usually receive an overly detailed job description containing:

  1. An uninspiring job title
  2. A generic checklist of skills and experiences (often not particularly related to the job)
  3. A detailed list of character and professional attributes that are usually generic to any job

Agency/HR person: What did you think?
Me: Do I tell the honest truth or be polite? The answer I give is a combination of both. “I am not interested, the role is not for me”.
Agency/HR person: Why is that? [I am aware that they need to submit a number of candidate CVs and that a good candidate is easy money]

The reason is all too often the same … because there is nothing in any of this that is exciting.

What the company or the agency has done is define a generic role, looking for generic skills to do a generic job. This may not be reflect the reality in the employer, but a generic job description doesn’t help me differentiate between companies. It you ask for generic skills, I see a company that sees me simply as a resource.

Assume that you already have an income and a job you enjoy – why would you be interested in that. People are not resources. I am not.

No company that is going to be great to work for sees people as resources. You cannot say people are your most important asset and then call them resources.

I want a company that doesn’t want to hire generic resources, but wants to engage people. Intelligent, passionate, smart people who want to commit to the challenge and leverage their experience, networks and knowledge to deliver success.  Diverse, interesting and complex people.

This is a world away from the way that most HR companies and most agencies think.

If you want to hire the best people, inspire them from the very start.

Don’t write generic job descriptions, instead define exciting challenges that inspire candidates to play a part in defining HOW the problem is solved.

Don’t define exactly what you think you want in terms of experience (as you may miss excellent candidates), but instead provide a candidate with the opportunity to WOW you. If they can WOW you, they are much more likely to WOW customers, partners and your other employees.

And above all don’t write LONG job descriptions. Write short ones that explain the ambition, inspire passion and challenge the applicant.

There is an overhead to this. It takes longer to deal with real people than electronic CVs, automated sifts are not going to work and you will need to have conversations with more people. The upside though is that not only do you have a better chance of finding a great candidate for the role you are advertising for, you also have a chance to link candidates you see potential in with upcoming roles (thereby removing the whole search task and cost as you can approach directly 1:1 when the time comes). More importantly than this, you have an opportunity to show every unsuccessful candidate why you are a great company. You may not want to hire them today – but you are likely to want to keep them as a future customer, partner or supporter.


5 Tips to hire great people

I am always amazed at how many companies really make a mess of hiring people.

What should be an opportunity to engage energetic and passionate people wanting to find an outlet for their professional talents instead becomes a meaningless game, usually won by diligent CV writing artistes willing to play the tedious charade of the recruitment process, or those with the means to pay someone to do it for them. 

The CV checking process will sift out the worst candidates, the inarticulate, the bad spellers and those too lazy to actually tell you that they can do what you are asking for … but it doesn’t help you in finding and hiring great people. It will never help you find those truly exceptional people that can drive your business forward, be a A+ contributor and most importantly make your company a great place to spend a great deal of your life.

Why is this?

Why does the hiring process find it hard to identify brilliant people?

To understand this we need to look at how people are hired in most companies.

The whole process starts with a ridiculously overstated and irrelevant job description. This usually bears little resemblance to the actual role. It sets a bar so high that few who actually do the job in the company today could apply for it. Hiring managers ask for every technology, skill and experience they can think of rarely considering whether this is really needed, or more importantly whether it is physically possible within the constraints of time and space to acquire these skills [and if it was, whether that person would take a role paying what you are paying].

Next comes the CV sift.

You now reject any candidate telling the whole truth (because we know that the job description is almost always unattainable) and instead find the candidate who lists the most skills they can physically fit on paper and can best panel beat their previous job experience (whatever it was) into what you are  asking for. At this point, a sanity check would help [is this realistic for someone age 22], but instead hiring managers start getting excited about how they can hire great talent at the low rates they are paying.

And then we move to the interviewSmart managers and HR departments know that much of the CV will be ‘polished’, so they adopt ‘competency questions‘. Instead of asking for an explanation of what is written on the CV (knowing it may be untrue and impossible to verify), they look for insight from previous employment … 

Can you tell me what you were proudest of?

What was your most challenging task?

How to you manage conflict?

Managers think they are finding the best candidate by doing this. What they are doing is finding the candidate best able to demonstrate their mastery of memorising stock answers from the interviewees bible. If this is what you want then fine, but don’t think a great answer means a great hire. It means a practiced interviewee. Nothing more.

Competency questions will provide additional information than just asking about what they did between 2008 and 2009, but in many cases will simply reinforce biases. This may help you identify a cultural fit (because they are like you), but not a great hire.

And then the final steps …

Intelligence and left field questions: such as ‘how many golfballs could you fit in a Boeing 747‘. Useful perhaps if you want to sell 747s to Nike or Calloway, but otherwise of limited use in assessing the fit for most roles. These questions say more about the arrogance of the interviewer. Instead ask ‘real world questions’, whether about the role of about life. These are the really hard ones and will tell you a lot about the candidate.

Personality tests : These have the same problems as competency questions. A few minutes researching your company and some time practicing these online will help capable candidates deliver an ENTP or INFJ result as needed.

References. Useless. The only value is identifying those applicants with no friends, no contacts or no money (to buy them). You would never list a poor reference, and most employers are too frightened of the legal consequences of a negative reply, so you risk wrongly interpreting a response such as ‘we cannot provide references’ anyway.

So if the old style processes are broken what can companies do to find the right people?

5 Tips to hire great people

  1. Define what outcome you want, don’t only focus on the skills you think you need. Beware of long lists of skills and experiences. Keep it short, focused and open. Allow the candidate to shape the application if you can. Allow passion and energy to shine through. Ask yourself whether your process would allow a great candidate to be identified. A less defined role means more potential applicants, but also a better chance of finding a brilliant hire.
  2. As far as possible allow the applicant to demonstrate their ideas and value throughout the application process. When you meet and interview people, don’t be afraid to challenge the candidate. Put them on the spot. A great candidate will love this because it is an opportunity for them to shine, to show you what they can do and tell you why you should hire them.
  3. Keep an open mind and be aware of your biases. Would a 30 year old who has travelled around the world and volunteered be more valuable than a 22 year old ‘never worked’ Ivy League graduate? What you hire someone in their 40s who was changing careers and wanted a chance? Would you hire someone in their 60s who wanted a new start? Constantly think about who you are hiring for – you? your company? for your customers? What matters most? Remember diversity means you are reflecting the real world.
  4. Be respectful. Applying for roles takes time. Attending interviews costs money. ALWAYS respect this. Thank candidates who apply. All of them. This is a cost of business. Don’t be cheap. Never use ‘if you don’t hear from us’ in applications. Show respect. Only advertise for roles you are going to hire for. Don’t lie, don’t cut the salary to a lower level, don’t  promise what isn’t there. If you want to have an extensive process, then consider paying expenses for candidates as they progress. This cost is a fraction of the cost of picking the wrong person, and a tiny fraction of the cost of firing a bad candidate.
  5. Remember that hiring is a two way process. Never forget this. Great candidates are always interviewing you. Average candidates want a job. Great candidates want a company worthy of their time and efforts. Keep checking that you are answering questions that they may have. Before making the job offer, allow the new hire to spend some time in the company with people in a similar role to what you want to hire them for. Allow the candidate to ask questions to those in role, perhaps over lunch or a coffee without you being there. You want the candidate to know the reality of the job and willingly sign up to this. If you don’t, then you are simply a holding place until they move.

None of this is a recipe for success, and there are whole books dedicated to this, but getting the basics right, showing respect, being honest are great starting points.

And one final tip you should follow if you pick just one.

Hire passion

Work has days when everything goes wrong, clients cancel, projects fail and delivery is missed. When the chips are down you want to be with someone who stands with you, holds out a hand and starts to fix things, not someone who tells everyone what is wrong. Think carefully about how you identify that person, because when it really matters, character is what counts, make sure you are looking for that. 

Healthcare, empathy, the NHS and the power of video

Thanks to Tim Brown for posting the link to this fantastic video from the Cleveland Clinic.

Please give it 4 minutes of your time.

In his post, Tim asks readers to consider how this would work as a design brief for someone designing a hospital or healthcare system. I cannot help think that the relevance and value of the video goes much deeper. Particularly in the UK.

Amidst budget crises, reorganisations of Hospital Trusts and the creation of new markets, the whole point of what the NHS does and who it is ultimately there to serve seems to be lost.

You, me, our families are increasingly relegated to the status of statistics. We seem to be incidental to the redesign of the NHS.

Our voices rarely listened to as hospitals are closed, services transferred and the magical ‘market’ is introduced.

Our only involvement in this whole process appears to be to cause inefficiency by our recurring problems of becoming ill and getting old. Perhaps if only we were not such a burden, the NHS could reach that politicians nirvana of ‘being efficient’. I cannot help think that achieving this in healthcare is akin to having ‘quiet’ in a primary school – something that is possible, but not something that we actually want.

What this video does so well is remind us what healthcare is about.

It reminds us what hospitals are for and why they matter.

It reminds us that however bad our day has been, it is unlikely to compare to that of a doctor  giving his patient a diagnosis that will see his life change forever in those following few minutes.

One that makes the word ‘pension’ redundant.

One that measures lifetimes in weeks.

It reminds us that we are not that patient. At least not today.

Most importantly the video reminds us that healthcare is about people.

Not markets. Not targets. Not performance measures. All these are there and important, but they are there to support the core business – they are not the business.

Perhaps those who want to challenge the latest hatchet-wielding ladder-climbing Junior Health Minister giving a trite soundbite on News at 10 to justify cuts to our NHS should take a lesson from the Cleveland Clinic and focus on what really matters. Instead of duelling with statistics, we should go back to what matters. People. Not in an abstract way. Not in a markets/targets/performance way, but in a human way.

Perhaps pressure groups should engage not with flyers, but with YouTube links. 

Perhaps we should forget reasoned and rational debate and instead go for emotion.

BOLDLY put emotion first.

Why? Because emotion is the most powerful human instinct. If you don’t make a connection with emotion, nothing else matters. The statistics and reasoned arguments can follow, but start with the emotion.

Why? Because emotion, empathy, caring, love is the very essence of what being human is about.

Cleveland Clinic know this works.

Learn from them.