Me And My Monkey.

There’s ‘Me’. And then there’s ‘Monkey Me’.

‘Me’ is the self that I like to project to the outside world. I’m relatively proud of ‘Me’. He’s a measured chap; thoughtful and balanced. With an eye on the future, and a clear memory of the past, he’s a complex, nuanced soul. ‘Me’ is persuaded by logic and rational thought. He can be quite earnest, and a little dry, but you’d like him nonetheless.

I’d like to think, and I tell myself, that ‘Me’ makes the big decisions in my life.

But I know enough about psychology to know that this simply isn’t the case.

The really big decisions in my life – terrifyingly – are made by ‘Monkey Me’.

‘Monkey Me’ likes sex, drinking and music. He’ll do things on the spur of the moment and loves a good party and a long lunch. ‘Monkey Me’ reminds me a bit of ‘Ted’ from the Mark Wahlberg movie of the same name. And he can be just as annoying.

‘Monkey Me’ is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He lets ‘Me’ and others down, regularly. He lives for today, with scant regard for tomorrow or yesterday. ‘Monkey Me’ is emotional. He is irrational.

But I have to admit for having an enduring, if begrudging, respect for him.

When ‘Me’ will listen to the arguments and weigh the evidence, ‘Monkey Me’ will go with his gut – ‘do I like/trust this person?’. He craves physical affection and attention, whereas ‘Me’ can often come across as quite detached and, aloof even.

And yet, for all the earnest, intellectual grandstanding from ‘Me’, it’s ‘Monkey Me’ who is in the driving seat, decisions-wise.

This doesn’t mean rational thought doesn’t matter: talk to our good friend Aristotle, who was musing on this very topic thousands of years ago. ‘Me’ has views, for sure, and he expresses them. It’s just that if ‘Monkey Me’ disagrees, he’ll pull the same face as the bully who takes your dinner money in the schoolyard. With the same consequences for non-compliance.

We might not like this uncomfortable truth, but hold that mirror up (when no-one else is watching) and tell me it ain’t true, cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die.

Antonio Damasio is a Portuguese neuroscientist. He should be better known in the business world, not least because he has proved what many of us have long suspected.

Damasio observed a group of patients, each of whom had suffered damage to the same part of their brain – that which deals with emotion. In many respects, these patients had overcome their trauma and gone on to lead relatively ‘normal’ lives, holding down jobs, relationships and such. But they all had one thing in common: they couldn’t take decisions.

The natural corollary, of course, is that all decisions must ultimately be emotional. We can hide it, we can post-rationalise, we can pretend otherwise – but we can’t change it. It’s how we are hard-wired.

In a far more elegant manner than I have managed here, Jonathan Haidt articulated the overarching importance of the dominant, emotional, animal brain in his ‘Elephant and Rider’ metaphor. Again, however, even this isn’t particularly well-known or understood in the C-Suite.

More fool them.

The lesson is simple. Don’t talk to ‘Me’. He thinks he’s in the control, but he has no idea.

Talk to the short, hairy guy with him.

Because for those of us in the business of persuasion, there is only one ‘VIP’.

The Jungle VIP.


Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.

If You Don’t Know Me By Now….

‘Do you have the senior discount coupons, honey?’ bellowed the sweet old man as he settled down into the gondala.

He was American, of course.

And so was his equally adorable (and decrepit) ‘honey’ of a wife.

It was a warm evening in Venice as she fished deep into her bag to find the ‘senior discount coupons’. Sure enough, she did have them and she handed them over. They secured their five euro discount and off they punted into the sunset.

All of which leads us to Groupon. Remember when that was all the rage?

Except it never really was. At least, not in the UK, nor lots of the rest of the Old World. Because Groupon made the classic American mistake, and it ran something like this:

Everyone in the US loves coupons, so let’s take ‘em to the world….with technology!


Except naïve.

Seriously, seriously naïve. Because in Europe, coupons are nothing to shout about.

Coupons, in Europe, are the shame-faced mother handing over 5p off a packet of cornflakes to feed her kids. Coupons, in Europe, are tied up in the history of rationing and whole nations not having enough to eat. Ultimately, coupons, in Europe, like everything else, are about class.

I ain’t saying this is right, morally-speaking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Had Groupon done their homework and understood the multiple, complex markets – and cultures – involved, this would have been apparent from the outset.

But they didn’t. Instead, they chose to learn the lessons the long, hard, expensive way: Groupon’s shares are down 49pc in the last year.

To be fair to them, they’ve got it now and are retrenching into the market they know best, the land of the free. That’s one reason Alibaba has just bought a 5.6pc stake and the stock price is beginning to rally.

But it will be a long, slow recovery from here because of those ill-conceived international adventures.

Groupon and others need to recognize what the sweet old man and his ‘honey’ wife could have told them long ago – that doing business overseas is just like an overseas vacation: it’s all in the planning.

– this piece first published by The Huffington Post

Nick Jefferson is a partner at Monticello LLP and a curator of The Library of Progress.

Young Americans.

Standing in line (sorry, ‘queuing’) at the Post Office a few weeks back, I realized I’d made an error in filling out a shipping form. At the desk I asked the clerk if I’d need to start again. He responded, “Don’t worry, Americans always make that mistake”.

“All Americans?” I asked incredulously, “Or just the ones from the US?”

Admittedly, the Post Office clerk is far from alone in using ‘America’ as shorthand; the online visa forms for Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, for instance, give no other option for citizens of the USA. There is, of course, the small matter of the multiple countries, north and south of my own, that have every right to call themselves ‘American’.

But even if the word ‘America’ was interchangeable with ‘United States’ the term
seems to mean everything and nothing, all at the same time.

So what makes an ‘American’? Increasingly, I realize that for many it’s not just about a passport. There is a certain expectation, numerous stereotypes, both positive and negative, but rarely neutral. One place where assumptions of ‘American-ness’, for lack of a better term, becomes apparent is in the world of global or international business.

As a Yank working in the U.K., I am often called upon to provide ‘cheery, sunny side up optimism’ and a ‘can-do attitude’. Now, there are elements of this that ring true for me – I tend to think I can do anything so long as I try hard enough. This usually means I press on despite the very real constraints imposed by things like sleep. I take on too much, as a matter of habit. However, I’ve also been called – lovingly – a ‘bad American’, for my stance on politics, economics, and most social issues, as well as my well-travelled passport, something only approximately 42% of US citizens have.

So you can understand my confusion – am I ‘American’, or am I not? Having now lived and worked in Morocco, China, Burundi, South Sudan, Lebanon, France, the U.K. and Myanmar, so far as I can tell, there are a few working characteristics that are seen as decidedly ‘American’:

1) Workaholics

There is something in this, notwithstanding that most ‘Americans’ that the rest of the world gets to know are those ex-pats who want to ‘get out’ and see the world, and so are likely to be more ambitious and demanding of themselves than their stay-at-home compatriots.

Whenever I do business in the U.K., I find myself shocked by how little Brits actually work. There is, of course, an argument for work-life balance that I appreciate, but I simply don’t understand how an office can empty by 5pm, when workers don’t arrive until 9am, and still hope to grow into something meaningful.

This is not to celebrate such behavior – as I said, there is a real argument to be made for working sane hours. The point is only that ‘Americans’ have a strong culture of working long hours, even to the point that we regularly lie about it. However, it is still clear that Americans work longer hours, more weekends, take fewer vacations, and retire later, than any other country in the world.

So we are indeed a nation of workaholics and we export this behavior when we work around the world. This, I believe, is largely the basis of the seemingly global stereotype of ‘Americans’ as hard workers. (That, the Founding Fathers’ protestant work ethic and the absence of any meaningful social security ‘safety net’.)

But this, however, does not mean we are always more productive workers, and this is something to take into consideration when encouraging employees to demonstrate the same work ethic amongst employees or celebrating the dedication ‘American’ workers seem to have to their jobs.

2) Efficiency

‘Americans’ do not like inefficiency. Bureaucracy of any kind makes us steam at the collar, and in fact we find this increasingly irksome when it comes to corporate bureaucracy. In fact, if you want to understand ‘American’ politics and the clear hesitancy to increase taxes in order to pay for more government-provided services, you have to understand that ‘Americans’ see the government as inherently inefficient – they would rather pay more for an efficient service than wait for a ‘free’ one.

In the office, ‘American’ workers are often heard talking about streamlining processes, and they have a reputation around the world for being the ‘go-to’ for getting complicated projects done quickly.

However, global business statistics suggest that this might largely be an undeserved stereotype; the nation of most efficient workers is probably Germany, though that likely comes as no surprise, followed by France – despite many persistently held English and ‘American’ stereotypes to the contrary. As such, it is perhaps more interesting to ask why ‘Americans’ have this undeserved reputation.

In part, I’d argue, it’s a reflection of the assumption that people who work a lot work well. More significantly, it’s probably related to the favorable exchange rates Europe and the U.K. have enjoyed for many years. Hiring an ‘American’ firm has often been cost effective, particularly where invoicing is based on deliverable versus billed time.

This is important to keep in mind when thinking about implementing processes to improve business efficiency – ‘American’ models might not be the best.

3) Sociality

I want to put something to rest right now – ‘Americans’ are not ‘fake’ or disingenuous with their niceness. I hear all the time that we are artificial in our bubbly congeniality. As a person who suffers from RBF I don’t often get accused of this particular quality, but I nonetheless hear about it often from people complaining about ‘Americans’ in our office, business, or social group.

The truth is that ‘Americans’ believe that niceness is a quality that everyone deserves to benefit from – until they don’t. Put another way, we begin from a place of genuine trust and openness, and then adjust our levels of both in relation to the treatment we receive in return. This confuses many people because they expect to go the other way – you like and trust someone more the longer you get to know them. We like you when we first meet you, because we assume you are a good and trustworthy person – call it ‘frontier mentality’ and you’ll quickly see how much of this is shared with our cousins down under. If you respond by being guarded or condescending, we will silently withdraw our trust whilst remaining as friendly as proximity requires. There is no reason to make enemies if you don’t need to – you never know when you will need that person as an ally.

This sometimes means that people find ‘Americans’ shockingly Machiavellian when a friendly face turns down your pitch. Our niceness is as much cultural as it is strategic – it’s not fake and it’s not pathological, whatever you’ve heard.

When it comes to business, it’s important to remember that your ‘American’ staff are likely very naturally good at business development – whether they like it or not. However, you may find that they are perceived as overpromising. Niceness can be understood by many as a sign that the deal is done, when in reality, for an ‘American’ its just a matter of following protocol. Never assume you’ve won the work, and never forget that kindness is not a sign of weakness. If you can’t deliver, or if you yourself aren’t very likeable, they will turn you down – with a smile on their faces.

Perhaps the key point, above all others, to bear in mind is that the United States is huge, and monumentally diverse. We are not all the same. The three qualities I’ve given you here I’ve both embraced when it’s convenient and shirked when it’s not. That’s the thing – ‘America’ is a dream, and so too is anything one might call ‘American’. And any dream is a reflection of the person having it.

As such, perhaps the more interesting question for international businesses and business leaders is, “what is your American dream”? Your definition of ‘American-ness’ is a statement of aspiration or self-fashioning in so much as it is an articulation of the elements of your work or business culture you find limiting.

In asking ‘what makes an ‘American’, you end up learning a lot more about yourself and your business than you do about ‘America’. Wherever that is.

Melyn McKay is a cultural anthropologist and a partner with advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

Trust In Me.

You don’t trust me.

In fact, I don’t think you don’t trust anyone.

You’ve got my passport, my credit card, my home address – and yet you still don’t trust me.

Another day, another hotel room. And another clean shirt whose wrinkles and crumples rival those of a dinosaur’s scrotum. So we all know the trick: hang it up in the shower, and steam the creases out (the shirt, not the scrotum).

To do that, of course, you need a hanger.

And there’s the rub.

This hotel, like many others, clearly doesn’t trust me. If they did, they’d have supplied their wardrobe with hangers that I can actually use, as opposed to those infuriating ones that only work inside the wardrobe because all the ‘hook’ bits are permanently attached.

In case I steal them.

For the record, I’m not going to steal them. When I’m travelling I usually only just manage to get all my clothes in my suitcase, let alone some half-inched hangers as well. Anyway, I already have far too many hangers at home.

But even if I did steal them, I’d be nicking something that has a top value of, what, five quid? Stick it on the bill. Include it in the price. I don’t care. Because, within reason, a few extra quid on the bill isn’t a massive deal – but turning up at my client in a shirt that makes Yoda’s neck look like a baby’s bum really is.

Yes, I could probably get an iron from reception. Yes, I probably shouldn’t waste water simply steaming clothes. But that isn’t really the point. The point is that everywhere throughout the hotel room and its reception are those tedious little pop-up notes, telling me how much they ‘care’ about me, how ‘valued’ I am, and how ‘thinking about my every last wish’ is an integral part of their brand promise.

Brand is much like personality. What you say pales into insignificance when compared with what you actually do. Brand is not a load of mumbo-jumbo written down in a book that only the Visual Identity Nazis ever read. It is your behaviours and the way you treat people.

You can tell me all you like how ‘important’ I am to you. But if you won’t trust me with a 49p clothes hanger then, frankly, you don’t need to tell me.

Because I already know.


Nick Jefferson is a partner with advisory firm, Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.

A Little Less Conversation….

There is no value in values.

Well, that’s not quite true. What I mean is that there is no value in writing down your corporate values.

Because values are something you live, something you do.

Let me ask you a question – do you have values in your family?

I bet you do.

And they’re strong, right? Stronger, no doubt, than the ‘corporate values’ you see emblazoned on the office wall every time you walk through reception?

But, and I’m willing to bet a fair amount on this, you haven’t written your family values down, have you?

Because you don’t need to.

Because either you live these values, day in, day out, eat-sleep-breathe them, kind-of-without-thinking-about-it, or, very simply, they are not your values.

The same is true of corporate values. Writing down that you are ‘innovative’ (or whatever else – ‘innovative’ is just the value du jour) does not make you innovative. Often, indeed, it only confirms that you are not – because those people and corporations who are truly innovative are just doing it, getting on with it: innovating. They don’t have say they are doing something. Because they are actually doing something.

That’s not to say you can’t change a culture, the way a business behaves. You can. Just like you can change the way a family behaves.

But you don’t do it by writing down a load of clichéd mumbo-jumbo and then just somehow expect it to ‘happen’. You work at it, strive for it, model it constantly and continuously, you demonstrate it, relentlessly, 24/7. You hire people who reflect the culture you want, and fire those who don’t. You reward the behaviours you want to see and not those that you don’t.

It’s simple. Damned hard, and incredibly demanding in terms of leadership energy and time, but simple. So simple, in fact, that when it comes to ‘corporate values’, there is no one who has come close to putting it as succinctly as The King himself:

A little less conversation, a little more action.


Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello LLP, the advisory firm, and a curator of The Library of Progress.



Everybody’s Talking About Bagism.

This Christmas we are being subjected to the usual schmaltz fest. A tawdry parade that is, by and large, the product of client briefs that might as well read ‘We’d Like Something Like John Lewis, If That’s OK’.

But one advert stands out. Is an exception. And, tellingly, is in fact born of the Adam and Eve stable.

Step forward Mulberry.

Bravo on your wonderful, humorous adaptation of The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Bravo on being ‘brave’ enough to be product-focused and grounded, unlike so much of what else is out there.

Bravo on a spot that is well-written, well-directed, well-shot, well-acted, and just – well – good.

Mulberry 1, Rest Of The World 0.

– this piece first published by The Marketing Society

Stand, And Deliver.

The Future of….Deliveries
– by Santi Clores, CEO, World’s Largest Delivery Company

Every few years, someone asks me whether technology affects my business.

The truth is that it doesn’t.

Every year, at around this sort of time, we receive literally millions of orders. Typically, those orders will be placed in writing, and the vast majority will be in the form of a (badly) handwritten list or letter: addressed to me personally. Moreover, because our customer base is so global, the orders come in all sorts of different languages.

Over many years, we have honed processes and systems to deal with it all. Don’t get me wrong: it’s hard work, but it’s all manageable. In large part, that is down to our incredible workforce, of whom I am extremely proud. They believe in our mission and are so committed and loyal.

The seasonality of our work means that it doesn’t suit everyone. We work very intensively during October, November and especially December but during the remainder of the year employees are free to choose how to spend their time, as long it fits with our overall purpose as a business. We call this system Employee Labour Flexibility (E.L.F. for short).

The real challenge is ensuring that everything that gets to the right place, at the right time – and all within the same 24 hour period (except, interestingly, in my native Spain where orders can take up to two weeks longer to arrive). In this respect, I am very hands on, and undertake most of the deliveries myself, with support from a team of specially trained, trusted animals.

One of the quirks of our customers is that they ask that we deliver presents inside their houses, but without using the front door – or even alerting them to our presence. However, they are often thoughtful enough to leave us a bite to eat, which makes all the difference on the longer journeys.

Naturally, given the millions of orders that we process we do end up making the odd mistake. Some customers are disappointed and that is, of course, immensely regrettable. Whilst we cannot, as a matter of policy, deal with returns ourselves we do have partnership arrangements with a host of retailers around the world who act as our agents in this respect.

It would be foolish to suggest that technology will never impact our business. It’s just that, for now, our system works. And I’m a big believer in ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

So for now, and at least for us, the future of deliveries looks a lot like the past – and we quite like it that way.

¡Feliz Navidad!

– with thanks to the author, Santiago Clores, CEO at World’s Biggest Delivery Company