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Loopy strategies…

Virtuous circles, wheels of fortune, magic roundabouts – the one infographic more beloved by consultants even than the hierarchical pyramid or two-by-two matrix is the strategy loop. The FT’s Andrew Hill lays into them – their beguiling neatness, their often shaky foundations and their tendency, like boats too long in the water, to gather barnacles of complications.

“Strategies and business models are not infinitely repeatable perpetual motion machines,” says Hill. “If they were, chief executives and their teams could go home.” Yes, but given that these folk are staying at their desks, the question is: what should they be doing? The answer still is crafting and communicating the best strategy – the company’s way to win. And vitally, focusing on putting it into action. Too many strategies get lost in translation – declared from on high with more or less clarity and largely ignored when it comes to employees carrying out their day-to-day tasks. In this respect and to loop back, infographics can be a very helpful tool when it comes to explaining and implementing strategy. But only if they’re properly rigorous and compelling.

So long live loops, so long as they’re in service of strong strategies.

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Build a good name…

Back in 2007, I co-created and ran an executive day for the Henley Management College. It focused on how to enhance reputation through core purpose. The gist: build your good name (your reputation) with stories that pivot around your big why (your core purpose).

A good few years on from that enjoyable day, and reputation, more than ever, is in the air. Purpose, too, and of course stories. Rohan Silva bigs up purpose by way of his favourite quote from business – Hewlett Packard co-founder David Packard’s: “Many people assume, wrongly, that the purpose of a company is to make money… a group of people get together and exist as an institution we call a company so they are able to accomplish something collectively that they could not accomplish separately — they make a contribution to society, a phrase which sounds trite but is fundamental.”

Prompted by Taylor Swift’s release of Reputation, Ludovic Hunter-Tilney explores the r-word in the FT: “The public persona that we present to the world grows ever more significant. In the digital age reputation is inescapable. Not a day goes by without our judging something or being judged ourselves.”

But I’d like to leave the last word to the inestimable Patti Smith, who tells this story: “When I was really young, William Burroughs told me: ‘Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work, and make the right choices, and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.”

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Eat sunshine…

Eat Sunshine… read… have a point of view… fail at aioli… cook for days… eat for weeks… make something that can last…

A great opener in Dinner At The Long Table, a brilliant cookbook by Brooklyn restauranteurs and all-round food lovers Andrew Tarlow and Anna Dunn.

Sets the tone. Whets the appetite. Five stars.

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Wild of tongue…

In New York, an exhibition of work by one of my favourite illustrators, Maira Kalman. It includes the originals of the pictures she put to the words of one of my favourite books on writing, William Strunk Jr and EB White’s The Elements of Style.

After picking up a copy of the book in a yard sale, Maira was inspired to create a set of paintings illustrating various Strunk & White words of wisdom. Words such as “Be obscure clearly! Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!”

Wild of tongue and wild of eye.

For me, it’s a match made in heaven.

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Swoosh n swirl…

The other day I came across an old Nike shoe box from the 70s. It was once home to my sister’s prized Raquette tennis shoes but some 40 years on now contains assorted collectors’ cards from my youth – Asian Wild Life (Goitered Gazelle), Famous People (Sir Laurence Olivier) and the McDonnell F-101A Voodoo from the Lyons Tea Wings of Speed series for example. I’ll no doubt delve into the contents more deeply another day but for now it was the outside of the box that held my attention…

The familiar swoosh was there:

But so too was an eye-catching swirl:

Accompanied by the clear and confident: “Nike sports shoes are manufactured to the exact specifications of champion athletes throughout the world. Continued research and constant development are responsible for the athletes of the Seventies changing to Nike.”

Changing to and sticking with.

Great brands, like great athletes, last long.

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Between an electron and a star…

I recently rediscovered one of the books that captivated me most as a youngster:

How big is big? combines simple words and images to take children on a journey from the very big to the very small. Along the way it gives them a clear and encouraging sense of where they fit in the world, at a time, as the first page puts it, when “everybody is always telling you how big you are”:

Midway between an electron and a star – a mighty fine place to be, for young and old alike.

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Creative, coordinated…

Going back through some of my old files as groundwork for a new project, I dug out this distillation from 2005:

Over a decade on and a world away from that time, it’s good to see that the trend in business is indeed away from the pyramidic and matrixical towards the creative and coordinated. Whether it’s the ever-growing mega ecosystems of Amazon et al or the bloom in networks of micro businesses – our days call for, encourage and reward new ideas and the close collaborations of like-minded individuals with complementary expertise.

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Love the words…

Following gently on the heel’s of last Sunday’s International Dylan Thomas Day, a doff of my cap to the Love the Words competition.

Held each year on 14th May, the anniversary of the date when Under Milk Wood was first read on stage at 92Y The Poetry Center, New York in 1953, Dylan Day is the mighty fine idea of the great poet’s grand-daughter Hannah Ellis. On that day back in 1953, Dylan urged the readers to “Love the words, love the words…” and this, in turn, inspired Hannah Ellis to create a competition for 7-25 year olds to create their own poems by cutting up the opening words of Under Milk Wood.

Here’s my favourite:

Love it. To all the poets – my cap doffeth over.

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The donkeys gallop…

Just in time for the long weekend, a treasure trove of words and images in the form of postcards from the past. Tom Jackson’s Twitter account and soon-to-be-published book, lets us glimpse myriad holiday stories of yesteryear. Stories such as these:

The donkeys gallop and once I nearly fell off. I bet you wish you were here with me, don’t you?’

‘I suppose you heard about our plane catching fire?’

Filtered through the come-what-may sunny outlook of people on their hols, like all great stories they catch your attention. But it’s a bitter sweet experience – the stories are inevitably unfinished, leaving you hungry to find out more. Why didn’t you fall off the donkey? How fast do they gallop? How did the plane catch fire? Are you OK? Questions, questions. More postcards, please.

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Graphical excellence…

I’ve been a big fan of Edward Tufte, the doyen of information design and data visualisation, for many years. From Beautiful Evidence to Visual Explanations, his books embody his thinking, summed up for me in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information: “Graphical excellence consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision and efficiency.” In this sense, it’s akin to the best poetry: brilliant distillations that strike home and stick with you.

It’s not simply about bare bones communication. The kind lauded by Lucy Kellaway, citing meat magnate Wan Long’s “What I do is kill pigs and sell meat.” It involves something more than mere plain speaking, or plain designing – refreshing though that might be in a sea of guff and nonsense. Edward Tufte’s sadly recently departed kindred spirit, data visualiser Hans Rosling puts it well: “having the data is not enough – I need to show it in ways people both enjoy and understand.”

So yes, excellence is effective. But it is also, and above all, enjoyable.

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Visual plots…

Maps are on my mind this month, not least thanks to the treasure trove of charts and other cartographic wonders on display at the British Library’s Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line. Two of my favourites from the exhibition were both tourism maps, but each very different from the other. One was for 1950s Alicante, all sunshine and sailing boats; the other was for 1947 Hiroshima, showing in chilling grey the A-bomb impact area.

“Our best way of sharing knowledge – whether it’s a physical representation of land or an energy space variable – it’s a map. Every scientific analysis produces maps or visual plots to look at. That’s the way we intuitively understand the best,” says Naoko Kurahashi Neilson, in Lois Parshley’s article on mapping uncharted territories.

Whether or not they’re the best route to understanding, good maps can certainly be great sense makers – brilliant visual plots for the stories that bring us together, set us apart and spur us on.

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Write little…

Write little, but say a lot.

A New Year’s resolution courtesy of Gond artist Bhajju Shyam, who weaves his own vivid sense of my home city in The London Jungle Book.

When asked by his co-authors, Sirish Rao and Gita Wolf, what kind of feeling he would like the reader of the book to go away with, he said: “I want them to have the essence of what I felt. There is no need to show everything. I would like you to write little, but say a lot.”

A lot, like this:

When Two Times Meet

I have combined the rooster, which is the symbol of time in Gond art, and Big Ben, which is the symbol of time for London. I have turned the dial of Big Ben into the eye of the rooster, because it seemed to me that Big Ben is like a big eye, forever watching over London, reminding people of the time. Symbols are the most important thing in Gond art, and every symbol is a story, standing in for something else. So this painting was the easiest for me to do, because it had two perfect symbols coming together.