Monthly Archives: January 2012

Are you a back-seat driver in your own life? We’re in Godin’s forever recession – differentiate yourself.

I was reading Vivian Giang’s article “Seth Godin: If You’re An Average Worker, You’re Going Straight To The Bottom“. Now I’m not a big fan of Business Insider, because I think they trivialise matters and are in it for the page views and not the insight, but I seem to keep sending traffic their way.

Take a read of the article; you may find, like me, that you understand a bit of what Godin is trying to say. For 80 years ago, 80% of the workforce was self-employed. Now 80% of the workforce is employed, and they have got used to a culture of entitlement where you do your hours, pay your dues and get your retirement package.

Back in the 1980s and 90s, if you worked for Andersen Consulting or IBM, this equated to a boot camp on some technology or other, and bums on seats, earning your employer the big bucks.

But the world has changed and it is no more visible in the services marketplace in which I work – perhaps more visible than anywhere else. Because if people are paying a substantial day rate for your services – and that is universally true in the corner of Enterprise IT in which I work – they expect very tangible value.

There are those people who were born differentiators in my team. For instance, there are those that have a way of spotting cool new technology and relating it to customers businesses. These guys will probably always be one step ahead of the curve and always be able to add insight and value.

“If you’re different somehow and have made yourself unique, people will find you and pay you more” – Seth Godin

But this is what made me think, because this is a pretty elitist thing to say. Surely only the best people can be unique. The elite. And the more I thought about this, the less I believe it’s true.

I suspect that the secret to this could be as simple as knowing what you could be great at. With some people it’s bloody obvious, and their skills come to the forefront. With others, their differentiators are less obvious. Perhaps being easy to work with and never complaining. Or the gel to the team that isn’t visible, but keeps everything together. Or, the detail person, the completer-finisher, the documenter. Perhaps the ability to relate to people. To listen. To disseminate.

And perhaps the only thing you really need to know, is your strengths. Perhaps you should ask around a bit and find out what people value in you?

Because if there’s one thing that’s true about what Godin’s got to say – there is only one person that will differentiate you – and that’s you. You are in charge of your own destiny here, and that includes articulating your own value proposition. Are you being a back-seat driver in your own life?

How traveling by rail has become a disgrace to our nation

I’m sat here in the misery of a First Great Western train carriage. We’re packed into a 35 year old train and I’ve got the armpit from a sweaty teenager in my face. It’s delayed, and everyone is clearly miserable. The cost for this misery: £51 for a one way trip, or £0.80 a mile.

When I first left university, I lived outside of London with my parents; I commuted into London every day and paid £9.80 for the pleasure. That’s approximately £0.17 per mile. It falls in line with what you’d expect: cheap, affordable rail travel. We’ve had a bit of inflation since then, and if you take that into account, you’d expect that journey to cost £13.50 or thereabouts today.

Well if you go on http://thetrainline.com and try to buy a ticket, it will be £45. Pardon, you say? Yes, that’s 333% inflation. But that’s not the full picture of their profiteering. Passenger numbers have soared, 37% in that same period, if you believe this ATOC report. That means that for a given train, they are earning 457% more than they did 10 years ago – in real terms.

Ah, you might say, but they have been investing in the future, building out new shiny trains, wireless access and other amenities. I’m afraid the evidence suggests otherwise. First Great Western are still using the fleet of trains they inherited from British Rail in 1993, and the trains were built some time between 1977 and 1982. Most domestic flights now have wireless internet, but First Great Western operate a Bring Your Own Wireless policy, and stick you in a big faraday cage so you can’t get signal.

How does this make any sense?

Essentially it is an unregulated and anti-competitive market, which is all bad. The monopolised environment simply means that there is no incentive to improve. No incentive to provide a better customer service. No reason not to continue to push prices up.

And the stations?

I think that the stations are more offensive than anything else. I don’t know how many times I have been stood on a cold platform. You see, they used to have waiting rooms, but they realised that this was valuable real estate, so they sold them to minicab companies and rip-off coffee joints.

I was just stood for 20 minutes on a freezing platform with this exact problem. A WH Smith newsagent stands proudly where the waiting room used to be. But it’s OK – I can go and buy a packet of chips there for £0.90, 120% more than a supermarket. Who says they aren’t looking after their passengers?

My local station, Hampton, just retired the station worker that has been there since history began. He wasn’t a spring chicken, but he knew every cheap fare out there. To be fair, one of his replacements is pretty switched on, but the other can barely string a sentence together. It took me nearly 5 minutes to get my ticket today, with a growing line of passengers behind me.

Which brings me neatly to Revenue Protection

My favourite station is Kew Bridge. The ticket office burnt down some years back and for several years it was not actually possible to buy a ticket at any of the stations I went through from home to work. I’d be stopped, periodically, by revenue protection officers (it’s extortion, really). How, I would explain, would you like me to buy a ticket, when you can’t be bothered to have a ticket office at either station in my journey?

Andrew Gilligan wrote a good article on this a few years back. One operator made £32 million out of revenue protection, and financially incentivises its staff based on the amount of revenue they collect from unsuspecting passengers. I have one friend who was actually protected by police at Waterloo by one abusive revenue officer who would not let her buy a ticket, having travelled from the aforementioned Kew Bridge.

What can be done about it?

I really don’t know. Rail operators simply don’t care about customer service. They know that because they operate in a monopoly and most passengers don’t have a choice, they can afford to treat their customers like shit and they will keep buying. And passenger numbers keep rising as roads become more congested, so they keep putting their prices up.

For example, my regular ticket price just went up 6.5% last week, despite UK inflation being around 4%. And more to the point, salaries for most people aren’t increasing so the average person is spending more of their income, in real terms.

Perhaps we can lobby our MPs and our government. But I’m pretty certain they couldn’t care less. My local MP is Zac Goldsmith and I’m pretty certain he doesn’t give a shit. Zac – feel free to prove me wrong by commenting on this blog and tell me what you’re going to do about it.

In the meantime I will be thankful that I mostly travel for work purposes and my employer pays my expenses. Many others are not so fortunate.

Do you have ghongai – the art of good timing?

You know that phone call you dread, right? The one that comes from someone that always calls at the worst possible time? It’s not that you don’t want to talk to them – but just they always call when you’re in the middle of something urgent. And they always really need to speak right now.

It’s not because they are stupid, or rude. It’s because they have bad ghongai. I’ve been theorising this for a while and my conclusion is that some people have good ghongai, and some people have bad ghongai.

For example I have a great relationship with my mentor, John. I think one of the reasons for this is that he has this ability to call at a good time. When I’m quiet, my mind is still and capable of being opened. And if it’s a bad time, we always easily setup a new time to continue the conversation.

And yet other people including suppliers, customer and colleagues always call at a bad time. This sometimes makes me look less available than I really am. Interestingly with these people, there are several factors that don’t matter. For instance, some have access to my schedule and some do not. This makes pretty much no difference.

There appears to be no rhyme or reason to whether a person has ghongai; but I believe that it is a bilateral relationship. For instance I like to speak to my colleague Tristan Colgate. But it is almost possible to get on a call with him – we are always busy at different times. In other words, he has bad ghongai. Or wait, is it me that has it?

But what I’m wondering is what the impact of the subconscious is here. Are there people I subconsciously prioritise, and therefore grant them good gonghai? And if so, what does that mean of what I secretly think of Tristan?