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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cutting the BBC World Service. We are degrading a key asset which projects our culture, influence and language.

On a visit to Beijing a couple of years ago, I was struck by how frequently I was stopped in the street. Those learning English wanted to practise their skills. So what? Well it is a recognition that the world’s largest populated country, values the key communication asset of another. Chinese is a tonal language not easily mastered by outsiders and yet Britain, a pin-prick in size, is home to the world's lingua franca.

All the more reprehensible then of the cuts announced yesterday at the BBC World Service. Cutting Albanian and Serbian services may seem marginal to our lives, but in recent times, these have been areas of instability and we are not to know where the next conflict may be. The World Service enables us to project our interests, values and culture in a cost-effective manner. It is trusted and in a world of variable freedoms respected as an impartial source.

We have a history of punching above our weight and the causes are of historical accident. We are at the centre of the Mercator world map, live on the 0 degrees line of longitude and are the home of GMT. We have a top seat at the UN and for better or worse, are still a financial centre of note. English is the language of air traffic control and it has a heady presence on the Internet.

This budget cut is a short-sighted move. When we have few levers to project ourselves in the global economy, we are degrading a key asset. This is a cut which has not been properly thought out. Our weak communication skills compromise our business and employability abilities at home. It is even worse for a trading nation, when we start dismantling a key asset which promotes us so well abroad.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

King George V1th and Mary Portas, Queen of Shops. Two takes on reaching an audience.

Last week the coincidental showing of an item on television and another at the cinema, made for an interesting comparative take on communication skills - or rather the lack of them.

The King's Speech, with Colin Firth depicting George V1th's stammering, was a rare foray of the silver screen into speech impediment. Here was a man who could not communicate with his subjects, and yet desperately wanted to do so.

Contrast this with the opening episode of Mary Portas' new ITV series: Mary Queen of Shops, where shop assistants had another issue; an ability to communicate when they could, but through poor training chose not to. Welcome to the world of woeful customer-care.

In the challenging business conditions of 2011, there are few levers that a manager can readily pull to make a quick difference to the bottom line. Customer relationship skills is one.

People tend to buy from people they like and yet a basic rule of three: smile, speak and service seems to have departed from the shopping malls. The cause is a debate of its own. One wonders how things may have been different, if George's coach had been let loose in Mary's world.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What riles us is being told to move on. The language of leadership. Bob Diamond, Barclays and saying sorry.

Our banking, political and military leaders have got us into a fine old pickle in the last few years. Bad enough, but what makes it worse is the way they highjack our emotions and seek to wipe the slate clean on their terms and timetable. A case in point is the performance of Barclay’s chief executive: Bob Diamond, who observed before the Parliamentary Select Committee recently, that the “period of remorse needs to be over.”

Unfortunately this tone of communication can be seen elsewhere amongst our leadership cadre. As the military debacle over kit and policy emerged in Afghanistan and Iraq, we heard from our military and political leaders variations on: “ We are where we are”, “Need to draw a line” and “Time to move on”.

We feel cheated that this form of linguistic cop out is used and the electorate looks on with disgust. Political memories can be short, but there is no doubt there is a pattern to this evasion of responsibility, and an underestimation of the emotional intelligence of the citizen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The BBC Today programme, flowery fonts and getting a message across.

In the midst of the predictable diet covered by the BBC’s Today programme, there are some occasional gems. One such thread today, covered the idea that font style has an impact on a reader’s ability to absorb information. Not rocket science perhaps, but the conclusion is worth discussion.

Intuitively, one assumes that an easier font, makes for an easier read and more information absorbed. Interestingly, Today’s interview with Jonah Lehrer suggested the reverse ie more flowery styles are a challenge to the reader, who has to raise his/her concentration levels and accordingly takes in more of what is written. Elaborate styles may be an irritation but they stimulate the cortex.

Of course in our five second culture, this assumes that the reader wants to read said content in the first place. Assuming they do, there are lessons here for the politician drafting an electoral leaflet, the business crafting its corporate blurb, a student in education or the Kindle reader at home.

As use of e-book readers and the digital world expands, we are going to be hearing hear a lot more about font style.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why do government and quangos offer entrepreneurs the wrong things when it comes to business support?

Mark Prisk's ( Small Business Secretary ) comments today published on (www.conservativehome.blogs.com ), about how the government will help small business, makes depressing reading.

All the right noises are made about how important SMEs are to the economy, but his recipe focuses on telling us that we can get more information via an interactive online facility and a national mentoring programme. No, what we really want is easier access to the supply chain, increased visibility and mechanisms for reaching clients in a cost-effective and timely manner. Entrepreneurs by definition, have initiative and will gain relevant information and peer advice as and when. LEPs ( Local Enterprise Partnerships ) must focus on providing mechanisms whereby provider and client can reach each other. Freeing up and promoting trade fairs and exhibitions would be a starter.