The Forgotten Power of Partnership

toy-story-woody-buzz*These thoughts are my own, and are not those of Spotify.

Throughout history tech has run head first at industries, redefining the rules of the game. We call this initial assault disruption, and have lauded it as a positive force for change. And it is! But though it steals the headlines with its glitz and glamour, disruption alone will not always bring about the long term change people expect.

We expect a quick and painful revolution, but in reality we often see a slow, pragmatic evolution. Disruption is absolutely key, but it’s only half the story. For real, deep, long term change you need the flip side of the same coin, Partnership.

The Power of Partnership

Successful partnerships are slow, steady, and rarely grab the headlines. Every industry must form partnerships to flourish. The most exciting are those that help bring about real change, often involving a more traditional industry and a new, emerging tech firm who can help evolve their business.

There are countless examples. Thanks to partnering with the likes of Netflix, BBC Worldwide have driven their US business to record highs. Apple Pay, Square, and PayPal help thousands of traditional retailers get paid every day in brand new ways, broadening their reach. We all know about UBER, Lyft, Google and Apple disrupting the taxi and car industries, though we rarely read about the intricate web of partnerships they’re forming with the existing industry to gradually bring about real change (read here, scroll down to the diagram).

I work in the Label Relations team at Spotify, a tech company with its heart in music. My role is to help guide the recorded music industry, a diverse group of content companies grappling with the changes that technology has introduced. Spotify have successfully partnered with artists and the industry for many years, succeeding in reaching fans in new ways whilst helping to return the industry to growth. Much of what I discuss below will draw on my experiences so far.

The Secrets to a Successful Partnership

Why do so many industries partner with others? Because they can’t do everything themselves, and nor should they. They each specialise in different areas, find their niche, and build the most successful business they can. Partnerships introduce unique experiences, skills and perspectives without the hassle of having to learn them yourself. However, within these positives are inherent challenges which must be overcome. So how do we understand and manage these challenges?

Companies are large, incomprehensible entities but at their core, they’re as simple as you and I. As individuals, the secrets to our successful partnerships with friends, family or loved ones are (of course) far more nuanced than they seem. Difficulties will inevitably arise. There’ll be arguments, disagreements, and opposite ways of viewing the same damn conundrum.

Our differences can seem unfathomable, and companies are just the same. But it really shouldn’t be a surprise. We’ve all had unique experiences, leading to differing skill sets, resulting in vastly different perspectives on the challenges ahead. Each of these can bring huge positives, but the secret to a successful partnership is to manage the challenges these differences introduce. Let’s look at each of these factors in turn.

Understanding our Differences


As a teenager, I once made myself very sick by eating a huge bowl of Cheese & Onion Pringles. It was disgusting, let’s not go into details. I quickly learnt never to eat crisps again, and I haven’t. A little extreme perhaps, but I learnt my lesson.

Companies learn from their experiences too. To an established company, a history of plucky upstarts growing to own your space will make you wary of newcomers. Consider the music industry’s experience with US commercial radio, or MTV. Each innocuously arrived offering welcome promotion to sell more physical product, but soon built huge empires based on less-than-ideal royalty payments.

Labels learnt the lesson to be very wary of new entrants entering their space, and started to demand large payments or part ownership of partners up front before allowing them to launch.

This was unfathomable to the tech industry. Their experiences were in fixing problems, in moving fast and breaking things. Growing a business from scratch often relies on VC funding, who allow time to figure out how to make a profit. They’d never known the pressures of having to post consistent profits year-on-year, with even the slightest dip meaning you get gobbled up by your rivals (there were 6 major labels in 1999, now there’s 3).

This specific debate rages on today (read for and against). What’s clear is each parties’ experiences had taught them drastically different lessons.

Just as with me and crisps, an extreme reaction to your experience is not ideal. The solution will be to understand your partner’s history, appreciate their concerns, and meet halfway. Just as Spotify and the music industry did.

(…to learn what happens when you don’t, listen to this fascinating history of Grooveshark from podcast Reply All)

Skills (…and hammers & nails)

I’m comfortable writing, mainly because I’ve practised lots. But ask me to draw something and I’ll collapse into a sweaty mess. No matter how hard I try the picture in my head just won’t appear on the page, so often I won’t even bother attempting it.

Perhaps my brain’s just not wired that way, but I’ve also never taken the time to learn and improve my artistic skills. If something needs fixing, my instinct is to fix it with words. This may help fix a communication problem, but it won’t help hit a monthly sales target.

Companies each have a core skill-set too. Ask a media company to license, release and market content (a film, book, or music) and they’ll know exactly what to do. They’ve practiced lots, and are really good at it. They’ll be quick, effective, and are as likely as anyone to make a success of it.

But ask them to build a piece of tech and you’ll get a very different response. There’ll be lots of meetings. Different teams will compete for the same task, decisions will stall and u-turn, and office politics will explode. A tech company’s first steps into working with content may lead to similar results.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”
(aka Maslow’s Hammer)

Because of the difficulties of doing what you don’t know, companies will instinctively use their known skills to solve every problem. Or worse, they’ll ignore the problems they can’t easily fix.

When competition intensifies, what do companies do? They start doing more of what they’re good at; a content company will acquire and release more content (A&R label budgets have steadily increased through years of industry decline), whilst a tech firm will ship more products.

Breaking out of this comfort zone and learning new skills is challenging and painful, but incredibly valuable. Just look at what Netflix and Amazon have achieved in learning to produce or license their own content.

Partnership can fix these problems; complementary skill-sets enable you to do more together. But it can also be the cause of disagreements. A tech firm may assume that a content firm can build a piece of tech just as easily as it could itself, which of course is not true. One will get frustrated that the other doesn’t fix a problem as they would, or ignores the problem entirely.

Be mindful of each other’s skills and habits, and don’t be perplexed when a partner has a totally different perspective on how a problem should be solved.


We all view things differently. I view my clothes as garments to be comfortable and useful. My non-skinny jeans are well fitting and practical with ample pocket-space for my wallet. Everyone else views clothes as ways to look nice, who view my baggy jeans as unfashionable and ridiculous, especially as nobody but me carries a wallet anymore (btw you won, my boot cuts are sadly banished). We each view life through our own unique lens or perspectives, and forget that others do too.

And so do companies.

“I often talk with people about the conflicts between technology companies and content companies. One of the biggest issues is that technology companies view movies, music and television as information. Directors, producers, musicians and actors view them as feelings, as expression. Not to be searched, sorted and viewed — but experienced.”

Evan Spiegal, Snapchat CEO (via Recode)

This quote summarises how conflict can seemingly exist on every issue, when in reality you just have a slightly different way of looking at things. Behavioural science has discussed this in depth by asking if our minds are Creative or Logical, or if our decisions are Emotional or Rational.

For example, how do we figure out if a song is a future hit? The traditional approach is simply to play it, big it up, and let the music do the talking. But Spotify may prefer to look at the data, check for trends, and use evidence to back up their argument. We’ll both be asking the same question — Is it a SMASH? — but we’ll be approaching the problem from very different perspectives.

If there is a “correct” answer, it’s probably a mix of the two. There are calls within the industry for a change of culture, a move to focus more on data and dashboards, whilst companies such as Soundcharts are partnering with the industry to help them make that change. Meanwhile, Spotify has a global editorial team who spend their days listening to music, curating playlists, and taking punts (not always based on data) on picking out the hits of tomorrow.

Here’s another example. Giving artists their data (on their Spotify plays, saves etc) is very important, but does a creative mind value it to the same level a logical mind might? How do artists know they’ve “made it” — when they see a graph steadily going up, or when they look out across a huge crowd singing back their songs?

An artist may simply not view their music as something to be measured, and no amount of data will help them change their opinion on something. That’s why they hire others — managers and labels — to follow that info and make those decisions for them.

And just as an individual thinks in certain ways, so do entire companies. The creative industry is built on finding and selling expressions of emotion, so will naturally be more Creative and Emotional in their thinking. Tech will inevitably be Logical and Rational. This isn’t a problem, but if we ever forget it disagreements can seem unsolvable. Many times, I’ve presented facts, figures and graphs to prove my point, but been met by “It just doesn’t feel right.” This is an absolutely valid answer. Any lack of progress will be my fault for coming at the discussion from my own perspective, looking at the problem through my own lens.

I’m also never going to agree with most people on which jeans I should buy. Lets start by understanding each other’s perspectives, and working through our problems through the eyes of our partners.

The Complexities of Disruption & Partnership

(…and getting stuck in the middle)

Industries must all evolve over time. Disruption may begin that change, but partnerships will be the opposite side to the coin that help make true evolution a reality. This doesn’t mean disruption must end, quite the contrary, but we must be conscious of the value of long term collaboration.

In some extreme cases, partners may even be directly competing with one another. We forget now that for many years Google and Apple were close partners, with iPhones being pre-loaded with many Google Services (e.g. Maps, YouTube). All this whilst being in direct competition, and suing each other on a monthly basis.

These complex dynamics won’t exist in every partnership. But regardless of the scale and complexities of the challenges we face, both sides must step up to meet them. The best way to do that is by being considerate of your partners’ different experiences, skills and perspectives.

And one final word… don’t forget that in the middle of these partnerships there’s often a group of people mediating between the two, bridging the gap. They understand the skills of both companies, can see both sides of the argument, and speak both languages. Yet they’re often the most misunderstood of all.



The Beatles: 10 Songs You Need To Hear Again

Beatles Cross Spotify RoadThe Beatles are now are now on Spotify. YAY! Oh how we’ve waited for this day.

You may already know the more famous tracks and stories. About Twist and Shout and Beatlemania. About Ringo’s drumming on Rain, Paul’s forlorn Yesterday, George’s Something or John popularising feedback on I Feel Fine. About Tomorrow Never Knows moving popular music forward about 30 years whilst simultaneously baffling the world.  About the orgasmic orchestra on A Day In The Life or solos at The End or bla bla bla goo goo ga joob. We don’t need to dwell on these.
(but if you do, go binge watch the excellent Anthology DVDs)

Instead, here’s some of my favourite Beatles songs that I think are either overlooked, misinterpreted, have an interesting backstory, or are just so damn good I wanna shout about them from the rooftops. Accompanied by a playlist, obvs.


10. Dizzy Miss Lizzy

Though renowned for their own songwriting, the best examples of their early energy is often their cover versions. Here’s one of the best, a tearing Lennon vocal with Harrison’s signature guitar repeated throughout.

Tip: This song will immediately get a wedding dance floor jiving with each and every guest, young and old. Particularly effective if you just married a girl called Liz, as I did this summer.


9. This Boy

This throwaway 2 minute B-Side is a perfect love song. Their grasp of melody from so early in their career is undisputed, but it’s Lennon that steals the show with his desperate vocal and piercing cry.

Driven by a rivalry with The Beach Boys, John, Paul and George would later push their vocals further (see Nowhere Man, Because). But here they are at their most raw and unpolished, just three kids in their early 20’s singing a beautiful song.


8. Only A Northern Song

In any other band he’d be branded a genius, but in The Beatles Harrison was often sidelined. Only A Northern Song shows George’s frustration vented through sonic experiments recorded during the Sgt Pepper sessions, but quietly released on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

It doesn’t really matter what chords I play
What words I say or time of day it is
As it’s only a Northern Song.

These lyrics relate not only to his lack of creative opportunities, but to the business arrangements at the time. Northern Songs was a publishing company setup in 1963 to exploit usage of all Beatles songs. As most were penned by Lennon/McCartney, they were offered 15% of the company each. Harrison got just 1%.

In later years, Harrison wrote more and more songs (Taxman, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something), but his share of the company did not increase. Therefore, for a time, John and Paul were earning more publishing revenue from George’s songs than George was himself. Welcome to the music biz, George.

For those with an interest in the business side, the story continues. Northern Songs was floated on the stock exchange in 1965, then bought by Associated Television (ATV) four years later. In one of the shrewdest business moves of the decade, Michael Jackson bought ATV in 1985 for a bargain price of $50m, thankfully putting an end to any more dreadful Macca collaborations.

ATV merged with Sony Publishing in 1995 to form SonyATV, now the largest music publisher globally.

Well I find it interesting anyway.


7. Oh! Darling

It’s 1969, and The Beatles are close to splitting. They’re together for one last hurrah, a recording stint that would become the album Abbey Road.

Though they no longer write collaboratively, they’re still fiercely competitive. Macca writes an old style rocker that needs a screaming vocal, but instead of passing it to Lennon (who’s voice would suit it perfectly) he stubbornly keeps the track for himself.

John is furious, but Paul is determined to do it justice. He arrives early at the studio every morning for a week to heavily practise the vocal. By the Friday his voice has been torn to shreds, allowing him to record the strained, last ditch take take we hear on the finished version. Take that, John.


6. For No One

‘Revolver’ is justifiably lauded by critics, but For No One is often overlooked in favour of the more famous Eleanor Rigby. It stands out to me as one of the most heartbreaking Beatles tracks, and is a testament to the evolution of Paul’s songwriting.

At its core is a standard breakup song but rather than focus on the teenage emotions, we’re led through the seemingly mundane day-to-day moments that hurtle us towards the obvious conclusion.

There’s no intro or closing. We feel the claustrophobic relationship engulfing us as we’re thrown into the start of a day, the denial, the descending chords we can’t stop falling, the proud but defeated french horn and, eventually, the realisation that though you won’t forget her, it’s over.

You want her, you need her
And yet you don’t believe her when she says her love is dead
You think she needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years

You stay home, she goes out
She says that long ago she knew someone but now he’s gone
She doesn’t need him


5. Good Night

The White Album is essentially 3 solo albums from three men at their creative peaks. For me, its diversity, depth and breadth place it above all other LPs, Beatles or otherwise. (and no it’s not “too long”)

Good Night is the epic closer that nobody heard, being placed after the 8 minute noise-fest of Revolution 9 . It’s so unexpected, many forget it even exists.

Lavish strings twitter and twirl towards us as a soothing voice bids us farewell. But who’s voice is it? Most assume Paul but no, it is (of course) Ringo, and he nails it. Where once he sung about Boys, Yellow Submarines and Octupus’ Gardens, here he’s the ultimate 50’s crooner. A stroke of genius, and the only move more surprising than 8 minutes of noise.


4. We Can Work It Out

Whether they were collaborating with, reacting to, or competing against the other, the Lennon and McCartney relationship elevated both to ever higher levels of genius. Here’s an example of the former.

McCartney’s relentless optimism refuses to accept that his relationship (with Jane Asher, in case you’re curious) is over. With most of the song finished, Macca turns to Lennon to ask if he has any ideas for a bridge. His typically negative input is the perfect juxtaposition, and transforms the song entirely.

Life is very short, and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting my friend.

This story is well documented, but it’s often forgotten that it was Harrison who suggested switching Lennon’s bridge to a slow waltz tempo, resulting in the stretched harmonium bleeding over Lennon’s voice of resignation. It’s the icing on the cake of another perfect song.

Released at the end of ’65, this would sadly be one of the last songs to be written so collaboratively.


3. In My Life

Lives change. People grow up. We leave our birthplace and return as different people. Friendships fade. New ones appear. For the nostalgic among us, we’ll always fondly remember times passed. But In My Life puts it all into perspective…

But of all these friends and lovers,
There is no one compares with you,
And these memories lose their meaning,
When I think of love as something new,
Though I know I’ll never lose affection,
For people and things that went before,
I know I’ll often stop and think about them,
In my life, I love you more.

Though well known, for me In My Life even eclipses any of Paul’s more renowned sentimental offerings, such as Yesterday or Penny Lane. The original lyrics (now on display at the British Library) even listed Liverpool landmarks, just as Penny Lane later would.

John’s life had changed beyond compare by 1965. The life he once knew was gone, never to return. This song marks the first time he started to look inwards to write about himself and his own life.

This is another collaboration, this time including the underrated fifth Beatle George Martin. Paul helped write the middle 8 and pushed John to make the lyrics more universal (though this is disputed). But they still had an instrumental break to fill. John asked George Martin to fill it with “something Baroque sounding”. Martin obliged with a slow piano solo, then sped the tape up until it sounded more akin to a harpsichord, the finishing touch to one of the most perfect songs ever written.


2. Help!

Help, I need somebody
Help, not just anybody
Help, you know I need someone.

We all know and love this song, it’s anything but overlooked. We’ve danced joyously to this 2 minute slice of pop genius thousands of times. But have we ever truly listened to the words? Seeing them written so starkly reminds us what this song is – a desperate plea for help. John had already tried singing “I’m a Loser, and I’m not what I appear to be” a year earlier. Nobody noticed, so he tried again.

I knew I really was crying out for help. So it was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: he – I – is very fat, very insecure, and he’s completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.
John Lennon, Playboy interview 1980

People forget how constrained The Beatles were, they had to operate within the realms of Popular music. Blues or Country singers had been singing their woes for decades, but it just wasn’t done in Pop music at the time. Other artists before and since have experimented and pushed boundaries, but none did so whilst simultaneously appealing to the masses.

It is of course a wonderful song in itself, particularly Paul’s counterpoint vocals and George’s descending guitar at the end of each verse. But it’s all about John. It breaks my heart to hear him sing these words, particularly in the live versions accompanied by screaming, adoring fans.

Let’s keep joyously dancing to Help, but in the back of our mind let’s remember that even the most gifted among us are hiding insecurities that may never fade.


1. She’s Leaving Home

As their songwriting progressed John looked inwards (In My Life, Help, Julia) whilst Paul looked outwards to seek inspiration from others. The Beatles didn’t do social commentary, they left that to Dylan and, occasionally, The Stones. Instead, Paul’s seemingly flippant stories offer an equalling compelling insight into the lives of others.

Though impactful at the time, She’s Leaving Home has become a forgotten Sgt Pepper gem for us younger fans. It’s the heartbreaking story of a teenage girl running away from her parents home with a “man from the auto trade”, a glamorous trade in ’67. Paul wrote the narrative, whilst John wrote from the perspective of the heartbroken parents.

This is a poignant story that would have been common for the time. Nowadays it’s easy to forget the enormous generation gap that existed between the Great Generation who’d just fought a war, and the Baby Boomers who just wanted to move on and create their own history.

The Beatles will forever be the reluctant voice of the latter group, but here they instantly gave a voice to the elder generation who were unable to tell their children their own story.  Who better to tell it than the most listened to men on the planet?

Rather than add some lyrics, here’s a quote from an interview 40 years later with the exact same young girl who’s story in a newspaper inspired Macca to write the song. There’s a lesson for us all, especially at Christmas – Let’s put our family differences behind us before it’s too late.

I can’t listen to the song. It’s just too sad for me. My parents died a long time ago and we were never resolved. That line, “She’s leaving home after living alone for so many years” is so weird to me because that’s why I left. I was so alone.
Melanie Coe (the girl who ran away), interviewed in 2008


The Encore: All You Need Is Love

OK, one more. Let’s finish on a high.

Rather than endlessly Na Na Na-ing to Hey Jude, I wish this got more attention as the go-to Beatles anthem. We all know the simple chorus, but the verses hold an inspiring message that incapsulates the hope and dreams of the time. For anyone who’s ever felt the world before them was a closed door with no way in, these words from Lennon should be enough to jolt you into action. We can’t achieve the impossible but we can all, every one of us, get as close as anyone else.

Picture the scene: It’s June 1967. Two World Wars are fresh in the memory. Mankind is taking its first steps into space, and the swinging 60’s are hitting their peak in what would retrospectively be known as the Summer of Love.

Using the latest satellite technology, global broadcasters have collaborated to broadcast ‘Our World’ the first globally live TV show. Each country had a slot to fill; we have the US at a political retreat, Canadians herding cattle, the Japanese building a subway, and the Australians explaining trams (no, really). And then it’s the UK’s turn.

There’s The Beatles (and notable friends) huddled in Abbey Road. After an awkward couple of seconds of George Martin in the control room a trumpet announces their arrival, and they start playing.

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done
Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
It’s easy.

Nothing you can know that isn’t known,
Nothing you can see that isn’t shown,
Nowhere you can be, you’re where you’re meant to be,
It’s easy.

All you need is love.
(All together now)

Well said. Merry Christmas, everybody.


Adding Value: How to Stop Robots from Stealing Your Job

A long-running debate has recently moved into the mainstream. With Artificial Intelligence (AI) improving at an exponential rate, could a robot take our jobs? Some argue it’s inevitable. As AI and “Robots” progress (think automated passport control, UBER & online shopping, not The Terminator) more white-collar jobs such as admin staff, call centres, paralegals, and even doctors will be threatened. But for me, it simply highlights an issue many of us ignore…

As technology progresses, are we constantly adapting to ensure we’re always Adding Value?


Act Now, Not Later

The AI debate speaks of changes happening over the coming decades, but this lulls us into a false sense of security. Many of us – individuals, teams, companies, industries – may already be contributing less than we once did. The world’s already changed, and some or many of our daily tasks don’t Add Value like we think they do. Circumstances have changed, but we haven’t.

My nickname aged 12 was ‘Pointless’ (quite funny, I admit). What can I do to stop a robot resurrecting my nickname and taking my job? How do we all keep adapting and Adding Value?


What’s the End Result?

First, let’s look at our daily activities and identify what end result we’re contributing towards. We can add lots of value to something that’s no longer important. But how can a once crucial task suddenly cease to be important? Perhaps your customers or audience don’t value what they once did?

For example, Londoners still want to take a cab but they may value paying by card over the driver’s memorised map of London. Does a TV viewer want a schedule or a list of on-demand shows? If it’s now the latter, your TV Guide app will become increasingly less popular. Your clients still want to be kept updated with your latest news, but maybe they’d prefer a fun social media page to a formal newsletter. Or maybe they don’t want to read your updates at all (or blog post, but lets not dwell on that), so focus your time and effort elsewhere.

Next, once we’ve decided that the result is still valuable let’s decide on the most effective and efficient way to achieve it. What are the steps along the way? Can some of these steps be delegated or automated to save you time? Before something’s automated, does the information need collating and organising first?

For example, we still need an entertaining film but perhaps it can be computer animated rather than hand-drawn? We still need to manually track sales targets, but will a fully automated spreadsheet save us time in the long-run? We may need to find old emails, but should we still use that complicated folder system, or learn to rely on Search?

Let’s spend as much our day as possible contributing towards a valued end result. Let’s look at our day and ask… Who’s going to read my email? What will they do with that information? Do they have time to action it? What will this meeting result in? Where do the results of this work fit? How am I adding value right now? If we can learn to do this, we’ll keep improving and will become increasingly indispensable (even when the robot arrives).


Slow, Tired, and Fired

However, this approach will create hurdles to overcome.

First, you’ll slow down. It takes time to question what you do, but you will improve and return to normal speed before long.

Second, you’ll use more mental energy and will get tired faster. I’ve previously discussed Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow, where we learnt that more rational thought asks your System 2 to do all the heavy lifting. This sucks at your energy far more than your faster, automatic System 1. So get more rest and keep your energy levels high.

Finally, and crucially, you’ll probably have incomplete information. You may not know how you’re adding value but your boss will. You shouldn’t need to know exactly why you’ve been asked to do every task, so get on with it. As a newlywed taking the first steps into building a successful marriage, I’m also learning the same lesson at home.


Time for a change?

So, we’ve identified that some of what we do is indeed a little outdated and not adding the value it once did. Not a problem! At least we figured it out before someone else did.

Now let’s carve out some time to act on it. Let’s re-focus on the end result, and delegate/automate/ignore some of the less crucial tasks that keep us busy every day. It’s OK to be slow and tired for a while, so let’s ask for the support of those around us. After all, we’re all in this together.

Changing our own habits is tough, but changing a company or entire industry is a different proposition altogether. It needs leaders to confront the painful questions head on, to constantly work on solutions and to help their teams to keep adding value.

It’ll be tough, but at least nobody will ever find a robot to replace you. Perhaps you could even hire one yourself? In fact, my primitive google docs are in desperate of an upgrade, if anyone would like to buy me this guy below for Christmas I’d be very grateful.

Johnny 5 Input

They’re Not All The Same: Why I’m Voting Labour

On Thursday, we’ll be asked to decide on the future of the UK. We must all decide what we believe, and what country we’d like to live in. But how? Based on the identikit slogans and forced passion we hear from the main political parties, it’s difficult to know what the differences actually are.

I’ve been frustrated by the lack of help from the media for simpler, more straight-talking explanations on what exactly we’re voting on. The best arguments (like this from Guardian or this from a political blog) assume a certain amount of basic knowledge, none of which was ever taught to me in school.

It’s no surprise we’re disillusioned with politics, 7 million are not even registered to vote. But it’s still imperative we sort through the slogans and get to the crux of the argument. Here’s my attempt.

I’m voting Labour… let me explain why.


Left vs Right (in theory)

The fundamental Left vs Right ideologies are useful in framing all other debate, so lets start there. (I’ve tried to be neutral, promise)

To our left we have Labour, and further left are the Greens. The Left:

  • believe in a larger government who’s function is to have an expanded role in society.
  • employ more people in the Public Sector (e.g. the NHS) and get more involved with how the country runs.
  • believe that an equal society is better for all, and strive for the equality of wealth and equal opportunity.

Therefore big business is regulated, with laws such as the minimum wage ensuring money flows from business to workers. Taxes are high, particularly on the rich. Wealth is redistributed through larger public services or by increasing welfare (eg pensions, child benefit, disability allowance).

To our right, the Conservatives, with UKIP further right. The Right:

  • believe in a smaller government who’s function is to play a more limited role.
  • employ fewer in the public sector, and try not to interfere with society.
  • believe that in a thriving society money will trickle down from big business to all, though social inequality is an inevitable by-product

Therefore individuals and businesses are un-regulated, encouraging the best performing to rise to the top, reap the rewards, and pass on to others. Taxes are low, meaning individuals have the freedom to spend as they please. Spending and welfare are low, as responsibility is placed on both business and the individual to work hard and prosper without the need for assistance from the state.

In the middle are the Lib Dems. The regional parties of Scottish Nationalist Party, DUP (N. Ireland), and Plaid Cymru (Wales) are generally left of centre. To keep this simple, I won’t go into depth here.

This wonderful infographic by David McCandless explains this far better. It’s daunting at first, but take the time to read the details, and consider how your beliefs compare. (click to enlarge)

Left vs Right Information is Beautiful

Tory vs Labour in 2015

The ideological differences above are more pronounced in 2015 than in any election for decades. But what does this actually mean?

The Economy is a key issue, though not the only issue. The Tories have framed the argument as if cutting the deficit is all that matters, ignoring how it’s cut. Should we increase the amount coming in by raising taxes, allowing us to keep spending on those that need it? Or should we save money by cutting all spending, enabling us to lower taxes?

Wages are low and unemployment high. Will an increased minimum wage get us all spending more money, fuelling economic growth, thus creating jobs? Or should wages be decided naturally by the private sector? Will increasing wages make business less profitable, reducing the number of jobs?

There’s a housing shortage. Should government get more involved, encourage the building of more affordable homes, and regulate landlords to ensure renters aren’t mistreated? Alternatively, will the private sector build cheaper housing without being incentivised by government? Or will they instead build more profitable, more expensive housing? Left unchecked, will landlords look after the best interests of their tenants, or will they prioritise profits?

Of course, nothing is quite this simple. But it’s a good place to start, and shows how the different solutions fit into the party’s wider beliefs.

These decisions really do impact the country. The below is a crude way of showing how government have changed the size of the public sector – the Tories were in power from ’79-’97. Where do you want this graph to go from 2015?

Net Worth of UK Public Sector


Why I’m Voting Labour

I believe that our potential cannot be reached through hard work alone. We need the helping hand of a well run school, an NHS, and a safety net beneath us that will promise to catch us when we inevitably fall. Knowing it’s there will help us all to prosper, not just those with their own inherited safety net.

I believe that social inequality should be addressed. If you were born lucky, or got lucky along the way, we should help those who did not. We should not be OK with so many relying on food banks to survive.

I believe Labour will deal with the deficit in a fair way for all. No they didn’t “overspend” when last in power. It was a GLOBAL financial crisis, which hit the UK hard due to our large banking industry. What did we learn? That the banks need to be regulated. And regulation of business is a core left wing belief.

I trust Ed Miliband, and trust in politics is a rare seed to be cultivated. I agree with his fundamental beliefs. He’s a nerd who came from behind to out-fox his more popular brother, and I like that. He’s taken the time to engage with the young and the disenchanted. Yes it’s weird when he stares at you, but get him chatting comfortably and he shines. He and Labour are of course far from perfect, but they’re the best option.

I believe that together, we will succeed. That goes for staying in Europe, keeping Scotland part of the UK, and aiming for the rich and poor to prosper together. Leaving some behind is not an option. We as a country will succeed if we’re all, every one of us, succeeding together as part of the same society.


You Decide

So, the key parties are not “all the same” as we often hear. These differences influence everything the ruling government does, and forms the country you and I share.

You must decide what you believe, and decide what society you’d like to live in. Your decision will impact the rest of us. Please think carefully, and vote.


(… and if you don’t believe me, my heroes Bilbo Baggins and Alan Partridge are bound to persuade you)


Working, Fast and Slow

Thinking Fast and Slow‘, the acclaimed book by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, is a summary of his life’s work in psychology. His fundamental premise that our brain has two distinct systems raises questions over the value of our own judgements.

The book branches out from this simple premise to cover a huge array of fascinating topics. I’ll address just a few, and their impact on how I work.


System 1 vs System 2

System 1 is our fast, emotional, intuitive, and most frequently used thought process. It helps us develop first impressions, solve simple sums, and converse throughout our everyday life. It’s highly skilled, efficient, and is in charge of most of what we do.

System 2 is slow, rational, and more logical. It pools information to make long-term judgements, and uses deep thought to solve and communicate complex sums or arguments. It casts a casual eye over the constant work of System 1 but is fundamentally lazy, and will only step in when summoned.


Task Substitution

System 1 has a lot to do, but likes to appear to be in control. When asked a tricky question it won’t always summon System 2, but will simply substitute it for an easier question.

“Do you like the polictician’s policies?” becomes “Do you like the politician?”.

System 2 will not step in to correct, as System 1 seems to be dealing with the problem just fine.

Catching yourself from answering the wrong question is challenging, we’re too instinctive. Discouraging substitution in others is easier. But be aware that if you force the use of System 2, you may not get any answer at all.


What you see is all there is

System 1 only considers what it knows. It ignores the Known Unknowns, relevant factors it knows nothing about. Worse, it refuses to accept Unknown Unknowns, things we can’t know the importance of or predict.

Many industries have employees with extreme over-confidence, who believe their automatic reactions can accurately predict outcomes (when in fact they can’t). Kahneman highlights banking, but there are many others.

Allow your System 2 to step in and remember the limitations of your knowledge… but don’t let your known limitations impact your confidence.


Cognitive Load & Fatigue

Using System 2 is tiring. Be aware when you’re asking someone to summon it. Are they already tired? Are they pre-occupied or stressed. If so, they won’t use System 2. Phrase your question so System 1 can answer.

Be careful how much info you throw in, System 1 can only deal with so much. How hard is it for the reader to fish out the key point of your message?

Ask the question first, add (some) background after. Even a polite nicety – “Hope you’re well!” – adds a marginal amount to the cognitive load.


Working Fast and Slow

My natural state is to be a perfectionist. I believe there is a right answer to everything, and I will think long and hard to find it.

Therefore I rely heavily on System 2, and it’s tiring. I struggle to make snap decisions because I want to make the right ones whilst considering all info available.

I’m constantly battling to correct this. Learning when to work fast and when to work slow has been a huge challenge, but it does get easier over time.

And it is a real battle, just as it’s a battle for a faster paced, more emotional & instinctive person – with a more finely-tuned System 1 than I – to take a step back and engage with their System 2.

We as individuals need both systems. And we as groups need a mix of people led by each system. On our own, we’d be useless.



We’re all Predictably Irrational, so deal with it

I’ve recently read a couple of very famous books on behavioural science. Considering why we think and act the way we do greatly improves our ability to actually get stuff done right, both individually and as a team.

Here’s some thoughts on the first book, ‘Predictably Irrational’ by Dan Ariely. If you’d like more info, this Ted Talk is a good start.


Relative Value

Our decisions are easily influenced. We instinctively assign value to an item based on the alternate choices available, despite the fact that these alternatives are not an accurate overview of all options. Consider decoy pricing strategies in Supermarkets, or the existence of £30 in-app purchase bundles of credit in Candy Crush Saga style mobile games.

I’m fascinated by how this effects wellbeing. I have a natural aversion to Facebook, as it inherently prompts us to compare the value of our lives against the (supposed) lives of others. The more money/stuff/fun we have the more we want, with the only fix being to break the cycle.

Narrow your circle, set your own goals and ignore everyone else’s. They’re not you.


Emotional decision making

We assume our decision making is constant, but it is of course heavily influenced by our current state of mind. I’ve always known this about myself (hence my trusty pot of snacks to prevent hunger!), but I’ve been recently surprised by the extent of the effects of emotions on my decision making.

Ariely discusses many more obvious emotional situations, such as hunger, anger, sexual arousal. They’re easy to understand and easy to deal with in everyday life. Frustration is a more intriguing phenomena; it’s hard to identify, lingers for longer, and has a huge impact on my ability to make patient, considered decisions.

This links to another section of Ariely’s discussions, the Cool State vs Hot State. In a Cool State we prioritise important actions and make rationale, long term decisions. In a Hot State we prioritise urgent actions and make reactive, short-term decisions. There’s no avoiding either state, the key is to identify them and act accordingly.


Expectation Effects

If we expect a meal to be awesome, then it probably will be (especially if we paid an extortionate amount for it, though that’s a separate conversation).

Ariely discusses in great depth that our expectations often influence a huge range of factors, from our everyday lives to questioning the very existence of a free market. Economics states that consumers will ultimately decide the price of a product, as they’ll simply stop buying sub-standard items. Behavioural Economics questions this, as the perceived quality of a product is so heavily distorted by our expectation of it. Would you enjoy that iPhone as much if it had a different brand name?

All this bleeds into many topics – economics, marketing, branding, and even self-confidence. I’m an optimistic person and enjoy life. But only recently have I realised that by simply expecting that I’ll enjoy my meal, my new gadget, or my day, I probably will.

As I’ve got older, my confidence has increased to the point where I generally expect that I’ll do a good job on whatever is required. It reminds me of a famous Henry Ford quote…

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”



Why I Love Writing

Like many of you, I love technology. I love how it empowers us, what it enables us to do, how it connects us and moves us forward faster.

But Words do that and more, and have done for centuries. Why such enthusiasm for mastering technology, yet not for mastering Words? Words can change the world, and often do. They tell stories, spark ideas and inject beliefs.

Words are easy to use, but very hard to master. I like learning hard things, particularly when I know they’ll never be mastered. It’s the thrill of a chase that’ll never end.

And that’s why I love writing.