Tue, Apr

I finally have 2020 vision. So, unfortunately, does everyone else, this being the year after 2019 and before 2021. At Mole Graphics, it’s hard to know what this year will bring. There are some certainties - the Olympics will happen in Tokyo, there will be a presidential election in America and a troublesome minority of customers will demand free reprints of jobs they signed off on only to realise later that they had made a mistake. Sometimes you want to ask: how hard is it to use the correct version of your logo? And if you have so many logos you can’t distinguish between them, maybe you don’t need so many.

My sales director is always telling me off for moaning about customers. He’s just come back fresh - or, to be more accurate, slightly less stale - from a conference where an inspirational speaker warned against such bitching, saying “Do not poison that well!” Ted repeated this mantra to me and looked slightly disappointed when I failed to write it down on a Post-It note and stick it on the wall. 

Like many customers, I fervently hope that 2020 will be less excruciating than 2019. It’s not that I am looking for any specific social, political or economic development - though lower corporate taxes would be nice - I just want to feel that the world is, at least partially, regaining its sanity. I’m not alone in that. One of my customers, signing off for Christmas, ended the call saying: “This year has been completely bonkers”. 

I don’t usually make new year’s resolutions but I began 2020 with a mild digital detox. Less time wasted anxious scrutinising the iPhone - and only going on social media when Mole Graphics has something intriguing to tell its select, devoted and largely silent followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Mrs Mole reckons this new regime will be good for my blood pressure and she is probably right.

The one mantra I have written on a Post-It and stuck on my desk is a quote from an Austrian lawyer called Karl Gombrich: “Everyone is as clever as they are, minus how clever they think they are. This leaves a lot of people with a negative score.”

Once a year, I catch up with a former colleague and current competitor to talk about life, work and the universe. We normally meet for a couple of drinks at some nondescript railway hotel that is equidistant between his company and Mole Graphics. This year we talked about many things: the ignorance of print buyers the simmering resentment of employees who smoke (by those who don’t) and an old school salesman whose annual mileage must have single-handedly increased the UK’s carbon emissions by a percentage point or two. 

Ticking over. That’s the most accurate description of business at Mole Graphics right now.

Apollo 11 was, as Neil Armstrong said, one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind - and also a giant leap for technology that, years later, created the industry, wide-format printing, in which Mole Graphics operates. When I watched the documentary at the local picture palace, it struck me, for the first time, how audacious, complicated and preposterous the entire mission was.

I rarely look at social media. And when I say rarely I mean it - not like my neighbour who says he rarely watches television - “just the news and wildlife documentaries” - but is strangely familiar with every twist in Game Of Thrones. (Full disclosure: I am one of the social pariahs who have never watched a single episode.) But the other day my sales director sent me a copy of a tweet from @AdWeak that made me laugh: “BREAKING: Client Informs Agency She Really Appreciates All The Hard Work That Went Into The Ideas She Is About To Kill.”

The best advice I ever received? “Never forget that it can be hard to distinguish between a rising market and a genius.” You’ve probably never heard of the man who told me that: a New Zealander called Sir John Buchanan (though he never insisted on the title) who was finance director of BP in its heyday.

I once vowed that the word ‘Brexit’ would never darken this column, but with a sort of final decision - or final indecision - looming, I’m going to do what politicians do all the time and break a promise.

Someone told me recently that Millennials approach finding a job in the same way they search for a date on Tinder. As my social media expertise only extends as far as Instagram, I asked him to explain.

“Respect, integrity, communication, excellence.” These were the official core values of Enron, one of the most fraudulent businesses ever formed. I thought of that the other day when the sales director came in saying that it was about time we had a new mission statement.

What is the optimum number of slides you can put in a presentation? The question occurred to me the other day when our sales director Brian gave a pitch to a potentially massive new client. He used 85 slides and ignored all my not so subtle hints that he delete a few.

When Mark Parker became CEO of Nike in 2006, he asked Steve Jobs for advice. Apple’s founding genius didn’t mince his words, telling Parker: “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”

“I do not think that I know what I do not know.” Socrates said that. The great Greek philosopher does not normally feature in any of those greatest management gurus of alltime lists, but maybe he should.

“A good website is not just a marketing tool to drive people to your products.” This was the first thing the speaker, at a seminar on digital business in a hotel in the Midlands, had said that caught my attention. The woman in front of me must have been impressed too - for the first time that morning, she made a note on her yellow pad and underlined it.

If I have one wish for 2018, it is that, after a year in which the entire world seems to have dumbed down, it gets a bit smarter again. I’m not holding out a lot of hope but as the owner of a decent-sized company such as Mole Graphics, you must always - as that giant of 20th century philosophy Eric Idle put it - look on the bright side.

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