Sun, Apr

This ‘new normal’ has me reminiscing. Fifty years ago this month, I spent a day at my uncle’s old school printing company. As I was trying to look inconspicuous in the corner of his office, a bloke came in and said they needed a new plate-bending machine. To my ten-year-old self, the very idea of such a machine sounded exotic, intriguing and, ultimately, baffling. What, I wondered, was this plate exactly?

Am I the only person alive who suspects there’s a conspiracy to pretend that Zoom is easier to use than it really is? The young Moles keep extolling its simplicity and yet, when the link inviting me to a virtual meeting doesn’t work, they just give me a patronising shrug of their shoulders, look as if I’m making it all up, and ask if I’ve restarted the laptop.

“It’s quiet. Too quiet.” That stock phrase from the Westerns my dad binge-watched - before the term had been invented - sprang to mind when I contemplated the speed with which the coronavirus was emptying my diary. Obviously, there’s the trade shows. More than 440 of them have been cancelled or postponed globally, including Fespa, which I had pencilled in as the perfect excuse to visit Madrid in springtime and Sign UK, which I hadn’t pencilled in at all. Then there’s the meetings which metamorphosed into telephone calls which later metamorphosed into nothing at all. I’m not accusing people of panicking - pandemics are not the time for macho posturing - it’s that they are completely distracted by the uncertainty of it all.

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.

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.”

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