Category Archives: Management

Demonisation of the unemployed harms the economy more than it helps.

IDS LunchingAt the present our society is facing a set of problems that are unique in the history of humanity.  Thanks to a limited understanding of science that we have developed over the last few hundred years we know a great deal about food production, creation of fertilisers, even genetically modifying plants to increase yields etc.  No matter how one feels about all the different technologies and methods in farming it is undeniable that one of the results has been an increasing population.  Combine this with our gradually improving medical knowledge and our growing reticence to send huge numbers of people into wars and you find that the global population is growing massively.

At the same time as this growth is happening we are also developing far more efficient production methods, automation, robots,  vehicles, etc, that reduce the number of people needed to run many business types.  Where an office worker would once have had a secretary, they now have a computer, and type themselves where they would never have dreamed of doing so in the past.  Where deliveries once took days to transport across the country with the use of numerous horses and the supporting services of stables, farriers, etc, deliveries not take a day as one man in a white van drives to their destination.  I need not list all the ways in which modern technology has saved us time and money in the work place because everyone probably has many more examples in their own mind than I can think of.

These developments have of course created work as well.  While we have become more productive it is also obvious that this is hand in hand with massively increased production.  Look back half a millennium and you will see a society where most people owned only a handful of items and most money was spent on food.  Today we probably have more items in our pockets most of the time; look around the room and you will no doubt see hundreds of different things, some of which will be technological marvels that would have looked like magic to that person of half a millennium ago.  Naturally if so many more things are being invented and made then there will be a lot of jobs created by their production.  However, necessity being the mother of invention, there is a huge effort put into the creation of labour saving devices, with the result that we all have a lot more free time than we once did.  With mankind’s constant effort to amass more wealth and safety it is natural that employers will take advantage of some of this labour saving machinery to reduce their work force and lower their costs.

The problem with this is of course the fear that led saboteurs to throw their clogs into the early machines that were taking their jobs.  The spanner in the works of modern economics is rising unemployment.  Humans have a need to work on a deeply hidden psychological level.  While a cursory glance at nature will reveal that most animals spend a lot of time conserving energy and humans have descended from the same origins, it is a tendency towards industriousness that has enabled us to rise to the height we have as dominant mammalian species on the planet.  It is improbable that evolution ever intended us to work like machines for solid days, day after day; the rise in stress related illness attests to this, but we certainly do have a deep seated need to keep busy and be industrious.

King Solomon was regarded as being a rather wise chap. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, King Solomon instructs “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”  Our industry is something that keeps us happy; when a person sits with nothing to do for too long it does not take long before boredom and depression set in.  The fact that the quote above comes from the bible demonstrates that work is something that has been preached as being important on a moral and spiritual level.  At present there is a moral crusade against the NEETS and scroungers who are not contributing to society.  The seemingly endless recession hand in hand with our healthy population levels and work automation has led to a large number of unemployed people.  The rigours and stresses of modern life and the many new chemicals and substances surrounding us are leading to effects on general mental and physical health that is preventing a great many people from keeping to the 40 hour schedule of the modern work week.  The support that all these people need is being focussed on as being one of the drains on public finances.

Despite the fact that very little public money actually goes to people who are not contributing to society this group makes a convenient scapegoat and forcing them back into work is being touted as one of the many solutions being offered to help us back out of the recession.  There are a number of points that render this approach unhelpful.  Firstly it has long been acknowledged that there is no such thing as zero unemployment.  Zero unemployment would not be desirable anyway as an absence of unemployed and penniless folk would lead to vendors being able to increase prices, which would lead to inflation.  The only way zero unemployment would be possible is if people were not able to leave jobs, as if they did leave jobs they would become unemployed until they found another job.  If people never leave jobs then there is no incentive to try and retain staff by offering a decent wage.  The world where there is zero unemployment is a pipe dream inhabited by indentured servants paying high prices for their goods.  As long as there are unemployed people it is possible to demonise them and use them as scapegoats for the failure of the government’s long term economic plan but in reality most of these unemployed folk are simply hopping from one job to another.  These are all people who are in the process of improving their economic success by moving from inferior employment towards better situations.  They are folk who have become unnecessary in one area of the world of employment but will soon become needed in another area.  This is the free movement between employers that enables the system to keep running at optimum efficiency.  The number of people who are actually targeted by schemes to deal with long term unemployment are a tiny number compared to the official unemployment statistics.  The small amount retained to aid the economic recovery becomes so inconsequential when this is realised that it is nowhere near worth all the newsprint and publicity it generates.

The second undesirable factor in the demonization of the unemployed is the stigma surrounding unemployment.  Those who become unemployed feel such an urgent need to return to the work place that they will accept jobs far sooner than they would if there was not such a stigma.  The problem with this is that people will hurry themselves into jobs that do not pay their full worth.  The evidence for this can be seen in the gradually drop in wage that is being experienced across the country.  Newsnight has said that wages are expected to return to pre-recession levels sometime during the 2020s.  It might not be the haste to return to work that is causing the wages to fall but it is certainly allowing the wages to fall.  It is common for unions to call strikes in objection to the failure of wages to increase, yet here are people across the country rushing into positions with lower wages or with zero hour contracts.  The employers are taking advantage of the measures being brought against the unemployed, even to the extent that employees are being sacked from their jobs and then being replaced with unemployed people who need not be paid the minimum wage.  This is an obvious circumvention of employment law that should not be accepted.  If people were not so eager to escape the stigma of being associated with the tiny minority who are deliberately unemployed then employers would have no other option than to offer a decent wage, and if the unemployed were not forced to work until they could find a job then they would be able to take the jobs that would not be done by the unemployed and unpaid.

The dropping wages that are supported by the increased desire people have to get back into work leads to a far more significant effect that is detrimental to society as a whole.  Where there are lower wages the amount paid to tax is naturally going to be lower.  A larger number of people are going to find themselves below the tax cut off and will not be paying any tax at all.  A larger number of people will find themselves earning less than they would in more prosperous times and will therefore be paying less in tax than they would otherwise.  The working population of the country is massive and all those of us who are earning lower wages would ordinarily be contributing vast amounts to the economy through tax.  At present this money being saved in wages is money that is being retained by the employers; in most instances the employers will be using the services of accountants to find any methods available to reduce the tax they pay.  It is a well known issue that large companies use many different methods to avoid paying tax, yet they are now being given a situation wherein it is becoming possible to retain more of the money they would otherwise have given to employees who pay tax, and the companies are using these methods to further reduce their tax payments.

The lower wages that are being seen around the country are leading to lower spending.  Despite a few successes in the retail sector on Black Friday and Cyber Monday it was noted that spending did not reach the levels that had been expected.  This was partly due to retail fatigue brought on by a glut of possessions, less available spending money and an underlying realisation that even where the public are spending the money we are so much part of the consumer equation that we are becoming products ourselves.  Money that is available is being largely spent on rent and food.  Food is free of VAT so is not contributing to the public coffers.  There is little left over for spending on luxuries and gifts and what there is available is being sucked up by the companies that are closest to being national monopolies.  VAT on luxury items is therefore not forthcoming and the appearance is that there must be a level of collusion between electric companies, gas companies, broadband companies, etc, raising prices year on year, who are all large enough to employ accountants and tax lawyers with a far higher level of skill than can be afforded by the public sector which is trying to retain some of this money.

The result is an economy in decline.

It is evident that a large number of the ‘solutions’ being offered to the problem of recession are being implemented purely for reasons of publicity.  The government wish to be seen as being proactive in finding our way out of the recession.  At the next election it is extremely valuable to be able to say that ideas were put in action that led to a reduction of the deficit and the national debt and greatly improved the lives of all Britons.   At present it appears that the ideas are not leading to the ends that were expected.  Had all the indignities of the last few years actually resulted in economic recovery I would probably feel far more magnanimous towards the current cabinet.  The measures implemented look more akin to the measures of an average driver when sliding on a patch of ice, actively steering in what appears to be the right direction but is actually pushing the car into an ever more extreme skidding slide.  The hands currently at the tiller of public finance are far too heavy to negotiate the delicate task of restoring balance to our economy.

It seems obvious that in an ever changing world we need ever changing ideas to find solutions to the issues that face us.  Imagination and creativity are what is called for in solving the problems of an ever more automated society.  We do not need to be forcing people into graft and labour just so that we can look as though we are being proactive and thereby  gain enough votes for another disastrous four years of governance, we need to be nurturing the creativity and imagination of all those who do not find themselves immediately drawn into the employment situations available.  It is education where we should be focussing our attention.  A line from the Facebook film a few years back was that graduates from Harvard made their own employment.  That is what should be expected of everyone who is at a short end.  We should all be capable of spotting the gaps in the market and thinking of ways to cater to that need.  There is no need to force people into working as little more than slave labourers if they are given the abilities to discover their own uses and their own jobs.  Nobody wants to work for peanuts to further the success of a company that doesn’t even value their contribution enough to offer a fixed contract with adequate hours at adequate pay.  Train the unemployed to make their own employment and numerous problems we are faced with will simply solve themselves.

An ethical way to invest in the most ruthless of moneymakers

It can be hard to make a living in modern Britain. Contrary to the prediction of Bertrand Russell we have not all been freed from the bonds of labour. The arrival of labour saving devices has not given us the freedom we expected. Robots apparently do not even threaten jobs, according to some reports each robot leads to the creation of three jobs for those who need them. Given that labour saving computers need constant attention to clean up viruses and malware and find solutions for the bloat of new updates this might not even seem surprising.
Mind you it is possible to buy your way out of the daily grind and thus leave your days open to pursue more fruitful ways of making a living. For the average person perhaps, the promised future in which machines would do our work for us has not arrived. For those who have the money to buy their tickets to freedom from hard work it is quite possible. Obviously a substantial amount of money would be needed to manage this, maybe a decade or two’s wages for most people. A lot of people have managed it. Sometimes they only succeeded because they inherited the requisite amount but others have worked their way into the position through their own cunning and ruthlessness. For some people the very act of buying one’s way out of work becomes a job in itself, even an obsession as they become wealthier and wealthier.
You may have worked out by now that it is the world of shares, stocks and financial trading to which I refer. If you can work out which businesses are going to be successful then you can become wealthy. If you can work out which ones will simply keep on a level then you can potentially bring in an income sufficient to keep afloat. For a lot of people who have to spend their days sweeping, building, digging, driving, painting, vending, etc, there is one obstacle that can prevent them making a living through this method. Aside from needing to learn the esoteric intricacies of entering the world of stocks and shares there are ethical considerations that many find hard to overcome.
Naturally one makes investments in order to earn money. A lot like the days when banks offered reasonable levels of interest except that the levels possible with a good investment can be far more interesting. In order to make money the investment must be in the sort of company that is likely to make more money and pay out dividends. With a free market in which regulation is kept to a minimum the more successful companies are also the most ruthless companies. They are the companies that don’t mind chopping down forests full of undiscovered creatures; they are the companies that don’t mind sourcing their products from unregulated factories where the age of the workers does not concern the owners, or the materials used might have been mined at terrible cost to the environment and the miners; they are the companies that see the law as a set of rough guide lines that can be interpreted in many ways, and if by chance that interpretation was incorrect the payment of a fine will be all the recompense necessary.
There are of course many successful companies that have far more ethical processes than these but those are the companies that must work extra hard to compete with the less ethical companies. The odds are that they will be paying their workers the lowest prices they can get away with and they will pay their taxes wherever is most convenient, as well as cutting costs by expecting their staff to do excellent jobs with old and malfunctioning equipment. Once again I may have painted a picture of a less than desirable company to hitch one’s ethical karma to.
Of course there are many flavours of business, but if a person wishes to buy shares in a company then the companies that are floated publically on the stock exchange do largely fit into these two categories, and for many people with the intelligence to work out where their money will get the best return these ethical shortcomings are unreconcilable. This is one of the reasons why many people never succeed in buying their way out of logging, farming, welding, bricklaying, fishing, etc. For these people the idea of sitting back and letting the money flow in from all these dubious business practices is as unacceptable as sitting in a bedsit on the dole waiting for junkies to come and buy heroin off them. Here we see a potential meeting of morals between the middle classes and the so called scroungers that Ian Duncan Smith is so intent on destroying.
For the people who are still earning their money without supplementation from shares it might seem as though they are the ones left behind by Bertrand Russell’s prediction. They look on the travesties conducted in the name of business and just hope that one day regulations will be put in place to prevent such practices and in the mean time they hope that perhaps consumers will choose companies with fewer ethical violations. They see the banks distorting markets and losing billions only to be bailed out by tax payer’s money and have little recourse beyond tutting and grumbling in the pub later. They would vote for a government that would sort it all out but the political parties have little difference between them and place GDP so high on their scale of priorities that they aren’t going to be the ones to sort it out unless a critical mass of public opinion forces them.
Getting such a critical mass of opinion in a nation is not an easy job for anyone. Pressure groups and charities work hard to force businesses to be more ethical and for governments to create better legislation, but it all blends together into the buzz of daily news. The political parties canvas to gain voters but as the last election showed no party can even gain a majority at present. Since then the political landscape has become even more fragmented. It is difficult to align the wishes of an entire nation so government ends up controlled by whoever has the loudest voices. These are media organisations with their own business interests which tread the delicate path between success and failure just as any other large business.
The solution to the problem of poor ethics in business for all those who have been trying to keep their hands and their morals clean, is the solution that goes immediately against their instinct. It is by investing in the very companies which have these terrible practices that they can guide them towards better ways of doing business. In day to day running of these companies the board of directors makes business decisions based upon rules that are set out in the Companies Acts. These rules suggest they ought to think about broader issues and their effect on their environment but only really so long as they don’t let it stand too badly in the way of returning maximum profit to the shareholder. However the secondary input that guides their decision making is the input of investors at any meetings they attend.
Given that the entire country proves to be problematic even for the Prime Minister to lead or control it makes sense that ordinary people would only be able to make the world better in smaller ways. Start with the world in front of you. At a certain point one begins to realise that doing the washing up or the vacuum cleaning is quite satisfying but makes no real long term impact on the world and the problems that afflict it. Conveniently if it is possible to save or raise even a small amount of cash it is possible to step into those companies that appear in the newspapers every day. Those things that people vote to change in elections can be changed from within the companies themselves. Admittedly it is still necessary to have the backing of many other like minded thinkers, but far fewer than in a public election. Alternatively simply raising enough money can give one investor the voting power of many.
Without the force of legislation there are few ways to change the behaviour of a company. Consumer action works to an extent but is often easily exhausted and difficult to affect by repairing company behaviour. Only by getting power inside a company itself can one be most assured of getting close to having a positive influence over the way that company conducts its business. By attending shareholder meetings one stands a far better chance of meeting other shareholders and of affecting their thought processes. The more shares a person owns and the more ruthless the company in which they have bought the shares, the more potential for good they can create in shareholder meetings. A side effect of this method of trying to make a better world is that those dividends are received by the people who are working hardest to prevent the companies in question from doing any further harm. That is the way to buy into Bertrand Russell’s prediction without breaking one’s moral principles.

Scrimping and Saving

 

 

I have had to start worrying about my money lately.  A couple of years ago I had a very well paid job that led to me living in a very expensive area with very high rent and spending a lot of money.  The problem was that my employer found the effect of paying out so much in wages was that he started to run out of money himself and my workplace closed down.  This left me in a similar position to my employer in that I started running out of money as well.  It was a little over a year ago that I found myself fairly penniless.  Luckily I managed to get a new job which may have been paying a lot less but was a job in which I could learn to organise myself.

 

During the last year I have been designing lessons in law most of the time and also doing some English teaching.  For the last few months they have had me working on a course of business skills.  It occurred to me that I am using a lot of brain power every day but I have not actually put all that much effort into escaping my financially disadvantaged situation.  This week I determined that I should put some more effort into trying to pull my finances together.  Luckily for me this is actually a lot easier than one would think.  It merely takes the effort of forming a plan and then following it through.

 

The first thing that I have had to do is take a look at the credit cards.  The banks kind of prompted me into this by offering me some interest free balance transfers.  The first bank to do so was Lloyds TSB.  They were willing to give me a substantial amount of Avios which unfortunately I could not get because I did not have enough space on my card to transfer the requisite amount of cash.  I ended up transferring as much as I could into interest free land.  Naturally there was a charge for this but luckily the charge is less than half what I will be saving by not having to pay interest for the next 6 months.  Shortly after taking this money off the more expensive card to put it into an interest free space the card from which I had removed the money offered me an interest free balance transfer as well.  I was unsure about this at first.  I wondered whether I would be transferring my already interest free money into an interest free account and paying the charge for nothing.  I found out that a new rule was introduced last year whereby a bank must always pay off the money that is attracting the highest interest rate in an account first.  So it seems that I would still have my interest free amount.

 

So I transferred an amount more than twice as large as my original transfer back into the account that I had just gone to so much trouble to remove debt from.  I may have paid quite a lot of money to do this shuffling but just like that I could look into the future of next year to see that I would have a couple of hundred pounds more in that time than I would have had if I had not made this effort.

 

Now I was started I realised that I should try and keep this momentum up.  What else could I save money on.  I checked my bank account and discovered that I was still paying insurance for the flat I moved out of over half a year ago.  I quickly put a stop to that.  I also discovered that my mobile broadband company was charging me not only for the contract I was currently using but also for the contract that I used to have before this one.  I have sent them an email and demanded that they stop doing so.   This got me to thinking that maybe I can save even more on mobile broadband.  At present my bill comes to over £30.  I realised I can combine them both into one with the 3 one plan which comes in about £7 – £8 cheaper.  Not only that but I could also get further discounts on that.  I went to a site:  http://www.topcashback.co.uk/ref/harrymonmouth .  At top cash back it is possible to get £100 cash back when you take out a contract with three.  So not only can I save money by taking out a new contract but I can also get paid to save money, thereby saving even more money.  The reason I have posted the link here is that as a member they will actually pay me to bring in more members.  Don’t worry it is a legitimate service, I have received £80 from them for taking out another very competitive SIM contract from o2 a few years ago

 

Following this I thought I must be able to go further.  The website:  www.moneysavingexpert.com has a huge number of money saving tips.  I decided that I should spend my reading time looking through that site and picking up tips.  For several years now I have been living on bargains and cheap deals without really putting in the effort but I have still been able to live above my means just through the luck of finding good deals.  I decided that I would start using the websites in an effort to find even better deals.

 

I have just been on to the Tesco website and bought my shopping from there.  Naturally I am far from being the only person to do so.  Tesco has a thriving online business but how many people do not realise how easy it is to save money there.  I skimmed though all the multibuy offers and half price deals and built up an amount of shopping so huge that it would have taken me 6-8 hours of shopping to get as there is no way I could carry it all on the bus in one go.  All those bus fares were reduced to only £3 for delivery for the cheapest slot.  After I had done a Google search for Tesco coupons I found a code that reduced the already low figure I had to pay by £10 again.

 

Of course I can’t escape spending money as much as I would wish.  For this last week I have been traveling an hour later from work and saving £20 a month just from the lower off peak fare.  The method I have been using to ensure I reach the tube station late enough for this discounted rate is by saving more than £20 per month again by walking to the station.  All the same I would like to be back on my bicycle soon but unfortunately the British Heart Foundation ride has left me with a repair bill of well over £100 for the bike.  Naturally I have been seeking lower prices again to do the repairs.  The trick is to not simply accept that the place you go for cheap prices is the cheapest place.  Normally I always look on ebay for cheap prices but surprisingly a lot of the things on ebay are not actually all that cheap.  Wiggle has always been a favourite for finding cheap sports equipment in the past but I have discovered that some of the best prices available are on Chain Reaction Cycles.

 

I am actually enjoying the efforts I am putting into saving money.  Adding myself to a lot of mailing lists that many people would think of as being spam sites is actually proving to be quite helpful.  My efforts are probably quite amateur compared to many money savers out there but even before I started this I was saving huge amounts of money compared to the people whom I meet every day.  I am going to put effort into this because I think that saving money is far easier than people imagine.  I still wish to sell off a lot of my belongings simply because they are cluttering my home but I am not all that sure that I actually need to sell these things off.  Now that I am actually trying I am quite surprised by how much money I have managed to save in just the last week already.

.  At top cash back it is possible to get £100 cash back when you take out a contract with three.  So not only can I save money by taking out a new contract but I can also get paid to save money, thereby saving even more money.  The reason I have posted the link here is that as a member they will actually pay me to bring in more members.  Don’t worry it is a legitimate service, I have received £80 from them for taking out another very competitive SIM contract from o2 a few years ago

 

Following this I thought I must be able to go further.  The website:  www.moneysavingexpert.com has a huge number of money saving tips.  I decided that I should spend my reading time looking through that site and picking up tips.  For several years now I have been living on bargains and cheap deals without really putting in the effort but I have still been able to live above my means just through the luck of finding good deals.  I decided that I would start using the websites in an effort to find even better deals.

 

I have just been on to the Tesco website and bought my shopping from there.  Naturally I am far from being the only person to do so.  Tesco has a thriving online business but how many people do not realise how easy it is to save money there.  I skimmed though all the multibuy offers and half price deals and built up an amount of shopping so huge that it would have taken me 6-8 hours of shopping to get as there is no way I could carry it all on the bus in one go.  All those bus fares were reduced to only £3 for delivery for the cheapest slot.  After I had done a Google search for Tesco coupons I found a code that reduced the already low figure I had to pay by £10 again.

 

Of course I can’t escape spending money as much as I would wish.  For this last week I have been traveling an hour later from work and saving £20 a month just from the lower off peak fare.  The method I have been using to ensure I reach the tube station late enough for this discounted rate is by saving more than £20 per month again by walking to the station.  All the same I would like to be back on my bicycle soon but unfortunately the British Heart Foundation ride has left me with a repair bill of well over £100 for the bike.  Naturally I have been seeking lower prices again to do the repairs.  The trick is to not simply accept that the place you go for cheap prices is the cheapest place.  Normally I always look on ebay for cheap prices but surprisingly a lot of the things on ebay are not actually all that cheap.  Wiggle has always been a favourite for finding cheap sports equipment in the past but I have discovered that some of the best prices available are on Chain Reaction Cycles.

 

I am actually enjoying the efforts I am putting into saving money.  Adding myself to a lot of mailing lists that many people would think of as being spam sites is actually proving to be quite helpful.  My efforts are probably quite amateur compared to many money savers out there but even before I started this I was saving huge amounts of money compared to the people whom I meet every day.  I am going to put effort into this because I think that saving money is far easier than people imagine.  I still wish to sell off a lot of my belongings simply because they are cluttering my home but I am not all that sure that I actually need to sell these things off.  Now that I am actually trying I am quite surprised by how much money I have managed to save in just the last week already.

It is time for companies to grow up

I am going to go out on a limb here and make a radical statement with this blog post.  At least radical for a tutor of business management and business law.   There may be many people who agree 100% with what I am about to say but amongst educators there seem to be depressingly few thinkers.  The task of the teacher seems to be largely a game of playing it safe.  The college or school will buy into the right to teach a certain subject and the examining body will provide a set of materials which will then be decanted into the minds of the students.  I am not one of the types who say those who can, do, but those who can’t, teach.  However, I do recognise that just as there are many who practise in their  fields with no idea what they are doing, there are also a great many teachers across the world who are simply seeking to earn a paycheck and never develop a full understanding of their subject.

 

Personally I am not saying I have a greater understanding, indeed everything I write whilst making my point today may well be complete garbage.  I have noticed that in general most ideas seem to be split down the middle between those who hold one view point and those who hold another.  Half of these people must be wrong.  In fact the people who stand on the fence and agree with some elements from each side would probably say that both sides are wrong.  A lot of the greatest experts we have ever had in many areas have ultimately been proved to be wrong.  It would seem that I can therefore take as extreme a viewpoint as I like because if it turns out I am a complete asshat then I will be in illustrious company.

 

I have been provoked to write today by the appointment of John Browett as senior VP of retail by Apple.  Browett has had a great deal of experience in setting the strategy of large electronic retailers in Britain.  American readers may not be so familiar with his work.  On the English side of the pond those who know his name are largely critical.  Those who don’t know his name are also largely critical, they simply do not have such a specific target at which to aim their ire.

 

I have had the benefit of working in an organisation that has been guided by Browett’s ministrations.  I spent approximately a year working in an electronics store which came under the general Dixons umbrella.  In our store the staff were pushed to speak to customers in a certain, almost scripted fashion.  For instance there were certain openings we were meant to use which would guide a conversation down a set path designed to maximise sales and ensure the purchase of add-ons, insurance schemes, accessories, etc.  Many of the staff resented this as they would not be allowed to improvise to the extent that they wished in order to achieve rapport with the customer due to the understanding that certain boxes had to be essentially ticked during the conversation in order that a mystery shopper would see that we were doing as we were told.

 

Naturally the customers could see right through this.  We knew the customers could see right through this so we would try and avoid appearing scripted at all costs.  We did have a lot of good conversations with a lot of happy customers but we would also have an overwhelming amount of customers who would say “FFS” and roll their eyes as soon as we opened our mouths.  I remember one customer whose hatred of the sales technique was so severe that a standard trick with the newbies was that as soon as he came in, a member of staff might suggest to them that they go and serve him.  Perhaps this was largely because they didn’t want to go anywhere near him themselves but at the same time it did also generate some amusement as newbie was left open mouthed at the tirade of abuse he received over heavy handed sales techniques.

 

We were a national joke and we knew it.  Searching through forums online would turn up pages and pages of abuse at the staff in our stores.  I am quite pleased to say that most of the usual complaints were for levels of customer service that fell far below that which was seen in our store.  We were both lucky and unlucky to be in a high street store.  Unlucky because high street stores have a difficult job coming anywhere close to getting the level of profit that could be made in an out of town superstore, this meant that for us ‘a bonus’ was a mythical beast that may have once been encountered by a lone employee 5 years previously.  We were lucky because we sought to be as helpful as possible and tried to ensure that every customer who needed help would get as much help as was humanly possible, whenever I have shopped in one of the out of town superstores I have been lucky to get assistance if I have gone looking for it.

 

And of course that is the crux of the issue with John Browett taking this position at Apple.  Apple have developed a fantastic reputation for customer service.  The Apple Genius bar is praised across the world.  They might not turn the profit that is usually desired from a retail chain but that is not really their purpose.  Everyone knows that those who are most tech savvy will usually turn to the internet to purchase their goods.  The advantage that Apple stores have is that the prices in the store and their prices online are not radically different.  Other stores are in competition with so many online retailers that they really have to cut corners to survive.  Apple stores are not really about sales though.  They are about the Geniuses and they are about customer service.  That is why it is worrying that Browett is taking this position of authority over them.  Browett’s philosophy is one of cutting costs and maximising profit.  Store members are being laid off and methods are being streamlined.  I imagine that down the line sales techniques will become more forceful and it won’t be long before Apple stores start to develop the reputation that Browett drags behind him like the rotting carcass of a hunted deer that he refuses to discard until he has taken every bit of protein off its bones.

 

Milton Friedman said many years ago that the purpose of a company was to seek maximum profit.  That is the free market system that we have been living with through the decades since his statement.  I am told that Keynesian thinkers like Stiglitz consider this approach to be one of the causes of the economic collapse we are currently trying to escape.  Even government has tried to do something to change this dangerous point of view.  The 2006 Companies Act in the UK kept the main element that directors should always seek to maximise profit but added that when doing so they should have regard for the implications of their decisions.  Essentially they should consider how their decisions might affect the environment, the economy, etc.  Not exactly a brave direction to take with legislation but then governments are timid creatures that know if they push too hard then all those lovely corporations with their lovely profits will go and cosy up to some other government.

 

The immediate problem with seeking to maximise profit is that while it may help the consumer to buy bargains at low cost it is inevitable that many of these bargains will be shoddy goods that are poorly designed and will soon need to be replaced.  The consumer will have little choice about accepting them though due to the fact that so many members of his family have been made unemployed by cost cutting measures that the family are unable to afford the quality goods anyway.  It is not all bad though.  At least if you are unemployed then you do not have to work in one of these corporations that are so keen on cutting costs.  That is not a great deal of fun as you are regimented to follow precise procedures designed to maximise profit, and doing so the whole time at the lowest possible wage the company can get away with paying you.  In addition you know that you have to reach certain impossible targets or else there are huge numbers of unemployed people put on the streets by other cost cutting companies who will eagerly take your place.  I am glad that I left after only a year.  Thankfully I now have a full head of hair again.

 

Of course cost cutting measures do maximise profit so this must be a good thing.  Lets see where this profit goes.  It doesn’t go on buying in quality stock.  Stock is kept to a minimum to ensure that nothing is left unsold.  As a consequence we had to turn away dozens of people everyday who wanted specific items.  Mostly those made by Apple.   It doesn’t go to the staff.  They are operating on a wage so low that they need to supplement their income with government handouts.  It somehow doesn’t seem right that a person should work in a miserable job yet not even earn enough to live on.  If tax payers money is being given out to support those who are working then there is something seriously wrong with the system.  It doesn’t go on the company’s infrastructure.  Out of about 7 tills our shop had there were many times when we would have a shop full of customers but only one till that was in operational order.  The touchscreens would break down or the OS wouldn’t load or the scanners wouldn’t work.  There was always something.  I cannot speak for the example of my store or chain but in general I know that profit also doesn’t go on paying taxes.  I was reading yesterday about Walmart paying rent for their property and therefore claiming tax back on the outgoing.  The people to whom they were paying the rent were a subsidiary of Walmart.  This subsidiarity also claimed back tax on the rent that they paid for the property… to another subsidiarity of Walmart.  I could go on but this would become quite tedious because there were over half a dozen subsidiarities of Walmart claiming back tax on rent that they were paying to each other.  Some of them did not even have a single employee.

 

So the profit will go to the shareholder.  With many of these shareholders one can not blame them for trying to get some profit out of a business that they have no hand in supporting through hard work.  They are trying to keep their head above water in similar industries a little higher up the chain.  They may get paid enough to invest in shares but they kind of have to invest in shares as they are the ones who the government is not paying out money to.  They have no choice other than to invest or they are going to have just as much trouble making ends meet.  Their companies are also governed by Milton Friedman’s idea that a company’s main aim has to be the making of profit above all else.  Indeed the only reason that companies care about the health and safety of their employees is because the law started making them pay out some of their precious profits as compensation when employees fell foul of dangerous working conditions.

 

We all know where the profit substantially ends up.  It ends up with those who are probably sitting on their own private beach sipping cocktails in some exotic country right now.  The reason we accept this is the vast majority of us live in such a hell at the hands of profit obsessed companies that the only thing that keeps us going is the belief that one day we too might be able to sit on a sunny beach sipping cocktails instead of slogging away on a production line while our body wastes away from standing in one position for eight hours a day while only being nourished by a diet of fried trimmings of the otherwise delicious food that is currently being cooked up for someone to eat outside their beach house after they have had their cocktail.  We imagine that if we play the game and work hard then maybe there is a slim chance we too might get there as well.  Some do make it of course.

 

I wonder how the exact figure compares to those who get there by simply winning the lottery.

 

This is the free market system.  While it is obvious that too much government control does not work, as we have seen from the failings of communism, it must be dawning on people by now that perhaps the free market may have its failings as well.  Naturally the best way to do anything is to find a balance between too much control and too little control.  It can be difficult working out exactly where that is and when the most powerful and influential people in the world tend to be those who personally make a profit from one form over another then it would be foolish to imagine that the balance is going to be any easier to perfect.

 

For me the conundrum comes from the fact that those people sipping cocktails in their luxurious beach houses let it happen.  In fact the conundrum lies with the fact that anyone lets it happen, that anyone plays their game.  We all know the saying that it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter heaven.  I can imagine how those who hold a secular viewpoint could ignore this wisdom as the mention of heaven suggests it has no implication to affect anything of substance that they might believe in.  This is not the case, as psychology and our understanding of conscience has successfully proved.  I certainly cannot understand how those who are religious continuously ignore this wisdom.  They purport to believe it fully yet they still seek to compete for the ability to buy things like shiny translucent stones when they know for a fact that there are people across the world, or even in their local inner city centres dying of diseases that are easily preventable with a little monetary input.

 

Personally I have had difficulty playing the game myself.  I have certainly had the dreams of becoming wealthy myself but since then I have begun to understand my conscience.  I am in a job now that I enjoy.  I do not make enough money to pay all my bills but I am constantly learning and the work atmosphere is friendly.  That is how I continue to live my life.  If I had to return to working in the minimum wage conditions of those who support the shareholders I would not do it.  The cost is too high.  Time is our most precious resource, followed by our health and happiness.  All those things would be taken from me if I were to submit to being the pawn of the free market system.

 

Neither would I seek to be one of the ones who sit at the top of the ladder.  If I were to make money as a shareholder in one of these profit driven companies then the things I have experienced combined with what I know of the world would not let me do it.  I would feel constant guilt and would not be able to feel happy.  Not to mention that too much comfort makes you flabby and robs you of your health anyway so you still cannot escape that unhappiness.

 

I know there is a better way.  I have not fully engineered all its intricacies yet but the way that we are doing things at the moment is broken.  If we actually got to simply choose where we were in the system we would realise that most people would get a choice between working hard in poverty or growing fat in opulent surroundings with the disdain of the rest of the population.  There are obviously exceptions.  Starving with a bloated stomach in an African scrubland would be an exception.  Getting a little education and managing to afford to take on a twenty year mortgage or pay enough rent to live somewhere that is not horrible but not affording to buy a huge mansion would be another exception.  I am not even happy with that one though.  I guess I am cursed with being a worrier but it feels like living like that is an equivalent to putting my fingers in my ears and closing my eyes and hoping that the world will sort itself out.

 

I am happy to accept less if others can have more.  Of course I would like them to put in a decent amount of effort to achieve what they gain but I do not think their failure to work is their own fault.  That lies with the cost cutting companies refusing to employ them whilst also putting anyone who would employ them out of business by undercutting them.  This does not mean I am anti company.  I think that the company has the potential to be the most powerful force for good we have.  In order to do this though I think it is time that the company grew up.  The concept of the company is largely around 500 years old.  Its petulant adolescence is over now.  It is time to start taking on some responsibility.  It is time to develop a community spirit.  The time has come to stop squabbling over who has the most toys or gets the most sweets.  As companies approach adulthood they must start taking care of their environment.  If children were left in a house to look after themselves indefinitely we all know that it would not end well.  If these great big children called companies are left in a world to look after themselves and they fail to grow up then this will also not end well.

PcMakto

http://pcmakto.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/apple-v-samsung-criticism-of-ip-law-judge-birss-rocks/

As I mentioned earlier,  I have another blog besides that of the college.  It is my PcMakto blog.  So named after the Toruk Makto of James Cameron’s Avatar film.  I do not ride a Toruk but in much the same way that a Toruk Makto is part of their steed I often feel I am part of my laptop, hence PcMakto.

Over on the PcMakto site I tend to post all my tech related blogs.  Some of them can be a bit dry, e.g., my blog on how to create a static date macro in Word 2010, but a lot of them are very interesting if you are into tech, especially the business side of tech.  I will probably not be linking you to a great deal of stuff over there as it is very much focussed on one area while here is my mindsplurge area where I essentially catalogue my thoughts and my life whenever I have the time.  Unfortunately time seems to be in ever more short supply day by day.

The blog I have posted the link for above is basically just to show you the way there but you will have noticed it is on a specific topic.  So if the case of Google v Samsung is of interest to you then you will find that actually PcMakto is linking through to my college blog which I mentioned earlier.  Incidentally if you are looking for a cheap, indepth, concise alternative to retaking A levels then the college, Capital School of Business and Management is a good place to go.  The advantage we offer is that our courses are vocational alternatives of about the same length, though a little bit more intense, and they offer the opportunity to bypass the first two years of most degrees, sweet.  Anyway I don’t want to bore you with an advert.  That is not why I am here.  I just thought I would let you know that if you have not yet read about it the Google v Samsung case is not your average court case.  As far as court cases go it is actually pretty funny.  Of course if you are on the internet I will assume you know this already.

If you are interested go check the other blogs out.  If not then just chill and enjoy your Thursday.  I can’t believe it is Thursday already.  I don’t know where the time goes.

Confidence

Mindsplurge.

One of the things that is problematic with working in isolation is having no reference to the work of others to provide a scale by which to judge oneself.  I have been working for the last several months as the sole teacher in a new establishment that plans to open up other courses next year.  I have worked in previous colleges that have taught English and know that by comparison to them my teaching standards are very high.  However having said that, the number of colleges that have been closed down for not being up to standard is huge and those that no longer exist will naturally have teaching standards below those that I hold myself.

I do manage to project an impression of confidence a lot of the time but when I have nothing to gauge myself against does this impression of confidence actually mean anything.  There are times when I am lacking in confidence to an incredible degree but in either state of mind neither of these projections means anything without being able to objectively gauge myself against anyone else who is conducting similar work to mine.

Looking around I sometimes get the feeling that all a lot of people are doing is projecting confident personas.  I look at the boss and he has an incredibly confident appearance but then he is the boss; part of leadership is having that confident appearance.  In fact isn’t that the key essential requirement of leadership, a confident appearance.  Having looked at the management of a large number of companies it seems that with many CEOs and board members it is this appearance of confidence that is their only talent.  Certainly there are some that have other qualities that go a long way to creating a successful company but at the same time this is overpowered by an ability to exude confidence.

This is of course tied into an ability to bluff.  I have noticed those who I consider to be successful will at times create their own reality.  They are fully confident in the fact that by the time evidence is called for there will be evidence on which to call.  The problem with isolation is that you don’t see these bluffs.  You think that everyone is telling the truth about how capable they are.  When you actually come out into the light and look around you it could be that you discover you are surrounded by idiots.  In fact you can be pretty certain of it.

Even that big guy on the top floor with the huge desk is only good at what he does.  He may have no idea what you do.  He thinks that he is placed in a higher position because he is better but really everyone’s scale is judged purely within their area.  He may be one of the better choices for running a company but in all other walks of life he may be a gaffspapper.  Certainly a lot of these people worked their way up but at every stage it was judged that his ability to exude confidence and bluster was better than his ability at whatever level of the business he was supposed to be working at.

Promotion is therefore a demotion of sorts.  I’m sorry son but you have very few of the qualities that are necessary for designing a curriculum but on the plus side you are incredibly bossy and confident; you do like ordering people around and despite not actually knowing what you are doing you manage to bluff it most of the time.  I am going to isolate you from the rest of the work force but as a consolation for shutting you away in your own office where you can’t mess up too badly I am prepared to give you a pay rise.