Every leader needs a fool: Antonym No. 10

This was originally a newsletter on my Substack.

Guaranteed royal news-free reading since last week

Dear Reader

A year ago today we shut the office after one of us started showing symptoms. A few days later the UK was locked down, and then I fell ill with the virus as well, the first of two bouts.

A friend of mine who also had it and I exchanged what reliable information about Covid-19 we could amongst find over WhatsApp a couple of times a day. Around a week after symptoms first showed there was a credible rumour from a GP friend that anosmia – the lack of a sense of smell, one of those pandemic words I didn’t know a year ago – was a symptom. I tried smelling some Branston pickle in the fridge and… nothing. A complete blank. I knew for sure.

As my “Covid buddy” and I approached day eight, he a little ahead of me, billed as the day where you either got worse and headed for ICU or started getting better. Knowing that as late-40somethings with a bit too much tummy for comfort, we might go either way, we waited and hoped and lay still in bed. he got through, then it was my turn. Right on cue, the much-warned-of band of tightness around my chest came on. I Netflixed and drank fluids and tried to ignore it and slept and then… it went. The next day I was a little better.

Meanwhile panic raged and business got ugly for a little while. Some people and organisations were very helpful (clients reassured on plans where they could, furlough bought breathing space, a deeply valued executive coach pitched in with emotional support pro bono while we gathered our wits). Some weren’t, but c’est la vie.

A year on we’re still fighting that hydra-like challenge of business-in-the-Covid-times, but the tide seems to have turned. The vaccinations, the adaptations in society and in our organisations are bringing results and rebuilding the sense of optimism that was kicked out of me at the start of the year with the resurgence of Covid in the UK and elsewhere.

Allora. Here we are then, in March 2021 and here is a list of things I recommend you read.

“Every leader needs a fool. And the fool should tell you you’re full of shit, on a regular basis.”

– Manfred Kets de Vries, management thinker. From his recent Lunch With The FT interview.

The cover of Time magazine from April 2m 1965. The main prediction that was accurate was the diversity of those in tech leadership roles.

Award-winning us

It was such a boost at Brilliant Noise a year after the shizzle hit the fizzle that to be given this lovely honour from The Drum this week. Doubly sweet as it was largely won on the basis of feedback from our clients.

Pink background with an image of a trophy

Highly re-targeted digital emperor’s apparel

Speaking of pipe dreams, the FT asked “If Big tech has our data, why are targeted ads so terrible”.

As one former Facebook employee said in a court filing that was recently released “more than half the time we’re showing someone other than the advertisers’ intended audience”.

“Yes! Facebook spends $14bn a year on R&D but it can’t stop me being stalked by the pair of underpants I’ve already bought.”

“Because we are way more complex that “hard” data scientists thought we were :-) (they should have asked soft scientists).

Because if they have inventory they will sell it even if it’s a bad fit.

Because brands employ social ads managers on the cheap that don’t really know about building a highly targeted audience.

All of the above from experienced (20 years+ marketers). Sigh…

Google’s killing cookies, but you can bet they won’t be killing “targeted” advertising. There will be a whole other billion-dollar box of tricks one can buy to make sure campaigns are missing the mark but with authoritative data to explain why they’re actually doing a great job.

So it goes…

How close the past looms, circling the present like a dead moon, lifting slow repetitious tides on the living planet.”
– Terry Bisson, Fire on the Mountain

You need a friend. Possibly, 5.

Friends by Robin Dunbar, he of the Dunbar number, sounds like an excellent read. I’ve ordered a copy to sit atop the teetering pile of must-reads.

According to The Guardian:

In this pleasantly chatty book, a miscellany of modern research on sociableness, he rehearses this argument and his other famous idea – that language evolved so that gossip could replace time-consuming mutual grooming – as well as citing lots of other social-science experiments.

Some, to be sure, will not amaze anyone who is not a literal extraterrestrial: “We gain a surprising amount of information from the nonverbal cues that we wrap around our words when we speak,” for example, though it’s not surprising at all. Others are more interesting: the fact, for example, that people who sing together in choirs subsequently enjoy an increased pain threshold, or that conversations involving more than four people are unstable and will usually split into two

Some writing advice from Colson Whitehead

In an interview for 60 Minutes, the author of The Underground Railroad and many other fine books said:

“Write for yourself, because time is short. [I write] really for me, which sounds very selfish. Should I have written a zombie novel? It made perfect sense to me. I grew up loving horror movies and then horror fiction. Is that something I should be doing as a literary author? I don’t know . . . if it gives me pleasure, if it’s exciting, you know, our time on earth is pretty short. I should be doing what I feel like I should be doing”

Source: LitHub

Zone One is Whitehead’s Zombie novel. I enjoyed it hugely.

Tom Ford’s OK

Some fashion and creative project consolation from Tom Ford. The best-dressed man of his generation, and a creative fireball across our heavens, Ford is both a brilliant designer and a director of exquisite cinema.

We can take courage then from his admission that he is going to find it hard to stop wearing “indoor clothes” and also that lockdown has not been the creative opportunity some hoped for:

I’ve been wearing these same dirty jeans with holes in them and this same dirty jean shirt for, it seems like, months. As soon as we can go out again, we’ll want to dress up. It’s only natural.

I have two things I’m working on: an adaptation and an original screenplay. To be honest, I thought that during Covid I would have time to work on these. I’m so lucky, I have everything in the world, but I think everyone has felt a certain depression. It’s been a very turbulent year. And I have a child at home who hasn’t been to school in a year. So, unfortunately, I have not felt as creative as I thought I was going to feel.

[Interviewer] what do you do in that situaiton?

I go to bed. Maybe I drink some coffee and lie in the bathtub and probably watch way too much CNN and MSNBC and just make myself even more agitated. I try to get some sleep, which I never get. I just lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.

Fair play, Tom. Me too…

Talking of fashion. This is what Rick Owens revealed as post-lockdown inspiration:

The look fits perfectly with the New York Times realisation that New York has actually become the set of Blade Runner.

Pun of the week is from Science Daily

A year on it looks like ambulance teams have some serious PPE, thank goodness.

Quick links

Quote of the week

Robert Shrimsley on lockdown beards:

“Chins it seems are Covid’s invisible casualties.”

Made me laugh because my beard is now at a new peak and I have no idea what its fate will be when The Great Return begins in a few weeks.

My chin has succumbed to a lockdown beard.

Well, I leave you with that image to haunt your dreams, and wish you the very best of weeks to come. I hope there was something here of use, interest or amusement.

Your ballistic epistlistic,


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P.S. Spent some of this week moving offices. I’ll talk some more about it when we’re properly in and up and running, but this is the building – the new Plus X Innovation Centre in Brighton. It’s quite an incredible space and community.

The flipping gorgeous Plus X innovation centre in Brighton – our new home.

P.P.S. Most of the links this week are from the Financial Times. I appreciate it is an expensive subscription, but if you can find a way to make it work, it is incredibly good value for its business, politics and culture coverage. Otherwise, you can get some free articles by registering.

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