The Weekend Read – Stand out of our light by James Williams

Full Title: “Stand out of our light : Freedom and resistance in the attention economy.”

This relatively short, but very important, book takes a good, hard look at “The Attention Economy” and the insidious effect it is having on our lives. The author, winner of the intriguingly named Nine Dots Prize, worked at Google as a strategist for a decade where he received the Founders’ Award – the company’s highest honour – for his work on advertising products and tools. More  recently he has studied at Balliol College, and the Oxford Internet Institute. His research topics are the philosophy and ethics of attention and persuasion as they relate to technology design.

He argues that, “attention is the fuel of our lives but we are living through a crisis as our attention is reduced by technology that we have allowed to dominate our lives. His writing pleads for society and the tech industry to ensure the technology we all carry with us every day does not distract us from pursuing our true goals in life.”

As information becomes ever more plentiful, the resource that is becoming more scarce is our attention. We have moved from a time where we marvelled at and enjoyed the novelty of instant communication to where we are now. The advertising and marketing industries sees us all as fair game and will do whatever they can to sell us anything and everything, behaving as if it their right, not ours, to choose what we see and when we see it. As Williams says, “…digital technology does not act as an honest GPS, but instead entices you along paths that make your journey longer. All in the name of capturing your attention, such that you are deflected from your intentions.”

The author’s philosophical yet practical approach to the subject is worth a read and will encourage you to examine the way that you spend your seconds, minutes, hours and days.

Thanks to reestheskin for the birthday present.

Available HERE.



If you’re in Dublin on March 2nd

My maternal grandparents would be proud of me being selected for Croke Park. I’ll not be gracing the hallowed turf with my prowess with sliotar and hurley. Instead I’ll be up on level 5 in the Hogan suite on the 5th Floor with a Taster session of “The 101 Things They Didn’t Teach You At Dental School”.

Professionals come in two varieties…

“But there are two basic kinds of professional, Harkness saw in a moment of self-congratulatory illumination. There’s the professionalism that does something well enough to earn a living from it. And there’s the professionalism that creates a commitment so intense that the earning of a living happens by the way. Its dynamic isn’t wages but the determination to do something as well as it can be done.

Laidlaw was the second type of professional. Harkness realised it was a very uncomfortable thing to be because, in their work, ‘well’ involved not just results but the morality by which you arrived at them. He thought of Laidlaw’s capacity to bring constant doubt to what he was doing and still try to do it. The pressure must be severe.”

From “Laidlaw” by William McIlvanney

Herb Kelleher – Cheap can be cheerful

Herb Kelleher was the co-founder of Southwest Airlines, he died earlier this month. He had many attributes that I admire, not least of which was introducing a culture to the company where Southwest’s employees took themselves lightly but their jobs seriously.


Kelleher had a simple philosophy, “A motivated employee treats the customer well. The customer is happy, so they keep coming back. It’s not one of the enduring mysteries of all time; it is just the way it works.”

An article in the FT Michael Skapinker which celebrated Herb, contrasted his outlook with a recent email from a disappointed British Airways passenger. Skapinker concluded with this statement, “few people come to work intending to be unhelpful. If they are horrible, it is usually because their bosses are horrible to them, or they prioritise sticking to the rules, or cutting costs, over keeping customers happy.”

In 1987 Michael O’Leary (of RyanAir) visited Southwest Airlines and Herb Kelleher to learn about the airline industry. Although there were plans for them to meet again, O’Leary never went back to complete his tuition.

Read more about Southwest’s business model here.



War and Peace 45 years on…

It’s never too late to set new goals or to revisit old ones and, as long as you persist, just about anything is achievable (even passing A-levels).

I eventually passed my A-levels in August 1973, (with grateful thanks to the lecturers at Harrogate Tech). I asked my father if he could get me a copy of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, the book, or rather books as there were two volumes, was published by William Collins for whom my Dad worked, based in their office in the Corn Exchange in Leeds.

Then, as now, whenever I buy a new book I sign my name and the date inside the front cover.

The scrawl has become more flamboyant and less decipherable over the years but is still recognisable.

I had started to read Tolstoy’s Magnum Opus at several times since then, but never got beyond the first chapter. This summer, 45 years on from that date in August 1973 I determined to get through both volumes, in all 1443 pages, by the end of the year. I put aside 30 minutes after lunch and when I had finished work every day whilst at home, but as I travel a good deal there were gaps between sessions. Thankfully there are relatively short chapters so it was straightforward to complete the day’s task at convenient points.

This “small steps” approach did the trick, I was able to get involved in the plot lines and the characters  of the novel without having to rush. Tolstoy’s writing is wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed the tale of Russia in the first two decades of the 19th Century. It’s a great book and I recommend it to you, there are lessons to  learn that still apply to each of us in our daily lives.

The point about goals being 1)Specific, 2)Measurable, 3)Achievable, 4)Relevant and 5)Timely, is well made. In this case, I wanted to read the book from beginning to end, so that takes care of 1) & 2). I can read and short of going under a bus (or my finding the book unreadable) I knew I could manage 3). It was relevant to my overall life plan 4) which includes tackling some “big” reads and 5) I set an end point of December 31st 2018, knowing that if I had to do some catching up I had the Christmas period to complete the task.

Should you be setting goals in your business or personal life then I hope this might inspire you.

PS when we moved into our home in West Cork five years ago, there were no fewer than three separate volumes of War & Peace amongst our books – the enthusiasm had obviously been there but we had allowed life to get in the way.

Have any lessons from Theranos been learned?

“…some employees who raised concerns were fired and others resigned. A combination of secrecy and a pugilistic tendency for legal skirmishes prevailed under the founder’s view that she required absolute loyalty…”

“How could the markets have been so misled? Flawed human nature predicts our ability to succumb to overselling and inflated claims. The company had created expectations that were inflated by the media and its investors…..a board of directors that included Henry Kissinger and former Secretary of Defense William Perry, the emperor was naked in plain sight.”

“The UK Government embraces technology in health care, and frequently, when concerns are raised—about outcomes, harms, safety, or testing—they are dismissed as cynicism or simply a failure to embrace change. Yet it is possible that we could harm patients through badly thought out and improperly tested technology—and not least through moving funds away from better use.”

Margaret McCartney reviewing Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup in The Lancet


Servant Leadership

I first came across the concept of Servant Leadership in Robert Greenleaf’s book.

Wikipaedia describes the concept thus, “the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Servant leadership turns the power pyramid upside down which puts the customer service associates at top of pyramid; instead of the people working to serve the leader, the leader exists to serve the people. When leaders shift their mindset and serve first, they unlock purpose and ingenuity in those around them, resulting in higher performance and engaged, fulfilled employees.”

In recent times I was impressed by Danny Meyer’s description of his use of the concept in his restaurants described in his excellent book, “Setting the Table”.

Traditional management is “top down”:

But something wonderful happens when you flip the structure:

The leader’s role is to serve and support the layer above them, no matter where or who they are.

You cannot have a dynamic organisation unless you are constantly encouraging people to improve and believing that they can do it.

Does it work? My personal experience says so and Suzanne Peterson and her colleagues showed that when CEOs are servant leaders, tech companies have significantly higher returns on assets over the next nine months, even after controlling for prior returns. HERE

Leadership is a multifaceted discipline take some time and consider this concept, you’ll be glad that you did.


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