Why hire a Brit to do an American job?

“It was tough enough getting you guys out of here in the first place”. Good point from an important man in his reclining leather chair yesterday. And now these New York and LA Brits are hawking their floppy hair and foppish, wonky grins to nab prettier ladies than they ought, and stuttering all over the Oscars. The last thing your company needs is to be responsible for another cocky Brit mincing around, milking the accent, with record levels of unemployment and enough folks chomping at the bit to do plenty for nothing.

Tough times reveal what’s needed. Creativity, resolve, and a sometimes mystical balance of fearlessness and commonsense. Who’s to say I have that any more than the American candidate?

Three Weeks..

Chances are on April 16th I’ll be boarding a flight back to the UK, to my mum’s charming and comforting semi-detached in the suburbs of Birmingham, with a nineteen-year-old mongrel, a quiet garden and a massive flat-screen television. I’ll make a dimple on her brand new couch, sending out applications for roles in boutique agencies and clientside in London town. Back to normality; perhaps a decent role that fuels my brain and might support an eventual mortgage on my first home at some point. A window box, a pet iguana, a complete Tetris-game mosaic on one wall.

That would be the common-sensical option.

Conversely, I could stay in New York; decipher and memorize deliberately obtuse Visa loopholes, strip them back two hours a night without the $350-per-hour lawyer, couch-surf with tolerant friends for four weeks, memorize TED speeches, scan Fortune magazine and Agency Spy, LinkedIn everyone I speak to, speak to everyone I link to (that’s never a problem) and spend a minimum three hours a day researching companies and individuals doing something different.

And if I find one I admire or aspire to, and that company doesn’t have a role for me, I might try to persuade them to make one, and reassure them that being from another country could help with tapping into a few markets they haven’t already, or drawing from another perspective in the boardroom, or in using the accent, (or me), to disarm or charm a few stakeholders, or in milking my enthusiasm to bolster their company’s bottom line.

Profits, goals, friends, family, relationships and career. The best stuff is rarely easy.

But writing brochures for Land Rover hasn’t helped. Neither has getting a Media company 200,000 hits in two days. Generating a glow-in-the-dark bacteria campaign makes a good talking point. Knowing the ratings of radio stations in the Tri-State area is handy, or the preferred motorbike in Queens compared to the Bronx, but it won’t get me the job. I’ve got within sniffing distance of four brilliant roles. But companies here are terrified of the V word. No, not that word. Visa.

I’ve spent hours trawling government sites, and have four decent options – two that are fool-proof, one that isn’t, two that are long term, one that’s just brilliant, but you’d still think I’ve just lit up a pipe in the middle of the interview, put my muddy feet on the desk and quoted Charlie Sheen.

Combining my experiences and observations as an outsider, from neither here nor there, but interested in everywhere, that could be useful. Having the thirst to go for bigger risks and bigger rewards, that makes a decent poker player. A British humor with an American work-ethic helps a few last-minute all-nighters. Combining the nuances of New York culture with six years in Scotland, over seven months in South Carolina, and calling both an industrial city and the mountains of the Lake District home, that helps in winning over a few awkward clients. For everything else there’s Mastercard.

The industrial city is Birmingham, which the rest of the UK makes fun of. The natives are a friendly bunch, oft described as ‘a bit thick’; a self-deprecating lot who speak like Ozzy Osborne, inhabit “a giant concrete turd”, will punch our own mothers over a football result and wade through an army of opponents for a decent pint. But we can take criticism. And to a Brummy, everyone in the room is a friend unless they tell you otherwise.

I can take Criticism. But this irrational Visa fear is just silly. It’s fixable. I want to work very hard for you. And I can. So let me. I have no support-net in New York. If I step on the wire I’m on my own. And what’s on the other end is the fun bit; the pleasure in knowing that if you look ahead, and never down, you’re a lot more sure-footed.

Looking up at skyscrapers can stop you seeing where you’re going. As much as it’s great to eavesdrop on Hasidic jewelers, El Barrio Mamas and Brownsville tough guys, to make friends with people who don’t lurch away from a smile the way a Londoner can; I’m not going to accept any old job purely to stay in this year-round nomadic carnival.

For three more weeks I’ll aim to live in a box (‘apartment’) for a thousand a month, and try to guard my wallet from every neon sign, roasted peanut smell or special offer that asks a piece of me. The pinched judgments of Fashionista pedestrians, the sleazy dates looking over my shoulder, the fact that everyone you meet has ‘issues’ and ‘it’s not something I can talk about just yet’, the gut full of chipotle, the snow, the sludge, the sirens, the smiles from strangers, the subway sweat, the gutter steam, the late night fears and tears.

I’ll do it the way a New Yorker does. I’ll greet everyone from anywhere with a smile and an open mind. I’ll be honest, and hand people the dollar-bill they dropped. I’ll work hard and play hard. I’ll push myself. I’ll push doors open for others. I’ll do more than I’m asked to, and I’ll do it fast. And I’ll be English by trying to see everything a little bit sideways, in order to see it straight. And I’ll be Brummy by taking criticism and staying resilient and friendly, however tense things get. And I’ll do it with two pieces of advice from an Englishman: “The best investment you can make is in memories”.

And I hope I’ll be a Brit allowed to do an American’s Job.


Ad Work

Below is a selection of published web, brochure, outdoor and press. Click on them to have a read. Concepts are in my book. Which comes with me.

Web copy for Mitsubishi Uniball at Connect (with Mark Lawrence)

Complete brochure copy for the Discovery 3, Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Freelander and Defender at Cogent Eliot

Stickers in Gyms encouraging Dubai Residents to cycle to Bike-Parking at Metro Stations

Directional Signage promoting the Bank’s logo (red arrow) and ethos (Ambition)

Concept for exclusive Chinese restaurant in Dubai with Insignia

200,000 hits to the Curb Media website in 48 hours courtesy of glow-in-the-dark bacteria

Complete brochure & web copy and national tagline and campaigns for Aga at Cogent Eliott

Creative for regional TV campaign, copy and creative for Social Media

Whiteboard DM for a Bank Loyalty Programme that rewards for the ways you bank

Whiteboard DM for a Bank Loyalty Programme that rewards for the ways you bank

Corporate Sustainability guidelines for Tarmac and Calor while at Connect

The first international ‘clean ad’ campaign across Berlin, London & Paris for CURB Media & New Era

Another concept for high-end restaurant chain in Dubai with Insignia

Recipe Fridge Magnets for Lurpak

Hoarding coverings for sections of a mall under construction

You’ve always got to end with a couple of montages: CLICK ON THEM:

Madey’s Alternative Glossary

Painting on Blimey studio set 2006

The Urban Dictionary is a loveable institution that captures variation in public lexicon. Here are a couple of words and phrases not used by significant numbers of individuals just yet, and they should be. Because I made them. Or me and my brother did. (If we didn’t and they’re already popular please let me know and I’ll apologise and wear a sad face for an hour or so and then make some more). Some are descendants of Butcher-family humour. Others are just a bit gross, and not for those with a gentle disposition.

Debbie McGee: Unnecessary displays of public affection (UDPA) – the unfortunate witnessing of a couple intensively inspecting each other’s tonsils, prompting slight wretching in passers by due to sheer gratuitousness. I’m all for a big hug and a kiss wherever you feel like it, and would be the last to limit public affection in any form, but this is the kind of semi-foreplay usually reserved for arrivals and departures gates at airports, after a long internship in a hostage situation, or after finding out that your partner has not been killed or maimed, but is alive and well. Not at a bus stop, or in the queue in Macdonalds.

The Debbie McGee is so called as the sight of an excessive UDPA can cause the same kind of wretching as seeing the famous entertainer Paul Daniels canoodling with his far-more-attractive wife. (An American equivalent would be doing a Katie Holmes).

Alugh – an accidental laugh in the workplace from a private text or email that is clearly non-work-related. The resulting laugh is then unconvincingly disguised into a cough or throat clearing, which fails to convince nearby colleagues.

Yap – a Ben Butcher original cultivated on the Coast-to-Coast walk with Mr Michael Fallon, this finds its prenatal origins in the dying sections of the Chas and Dave song ‘Rabbit’ (See original version here, see my version here), this refers to the sweat that accumulates in the region of the lower back and between the buttocks when walking either up a mountain or around a city or park on a hot day. It can be relieved by using ‘Yapwipes’, more commonly described as ‘Facewipes’ which can be found in all major pharmacy outlets. Mr Mark Taharka Waithe of Birmingham has a particular propensity to alugh when he thinks about Yapwipes or their purposes.

Flegl – the feeling in one’s mouth at 11am on a Saturday or Sunday, when digestive juices have been in overdrive attempting to eradicate the alcohol that entered one’s organs the preceding night. Flegl also describes the noise made when trying to utter your first sentence of the Hungover day.

Shame about your face. I didn’t make this one up. But the way in which it’s used is important. While this is in essence a phrase that refers specifically to misfortune regarding ones’ visage, I’ve tried to persuade people repeatedly that it’s common in Birmingham to say it to an individual immediately following a complement, so as not to leave the compliment hanging in the air like a sloppy wet kiss and no tissue. I’ve since discovered it’s not commonly used, and largely just by me, and that you should most importantly a) know the person well before you say it, or b) explain to the person that it’s something you do, and not be upset when they perceive you to be a complete dickhead.

Snappage. Again, not originally mine – this finds its origins in my older brother’s love of toilet humour, and the process of ‘Snapping one off’ to denote a substantial number 2. Snappage is another form of describing this, that has provided much amusement stateside. Specifically it refers to a large solid dump.

Kajunga. Another family favourite – refers to a number 2 that is closer to the form of Chocolate Milkshake. However the word refers more to the process of exit than the consistency of said deposit. The Kajunga is one that surprises its creator at both the speed and voracity of the exit process. “I did a complete Kajunga in the ladies. Mortifying”.

That’s my business. Author: Ben Butcher. Alternative answer to a dull or unwelcome question. “Have you seen my other sock?” “That’s my business”. “What do you think of Katy Perry?” “That’s my business”.

This Glossary shall be added to.

OGD: Only Great Disorder

Only Great Disorder – when you can’t produce anything bad.

image made by Maddy in 2005

OGD doesn’t make you a perfectionist, which is not always great. This is a case of only pushing out gems, stuff that uplifts, inspires or positively provokes, gets copied, gets disseminated or absorbed, without inflicting, maiming or irritating. It can be popular, or cool, or  both.

The Freethinking Movement spreads the best of the broadest spectrum of great music. I’m going to be less precise and do a Maddy; all types of folks with OGD: I’ll do what my father said I tend to when I write: throw a load of spam at a piece of chickenwire and seeing what drips off.

Seth Godin argues (well) that we are not mass consumers now but tribes. Where the internet was supposed to homogenize, it has separated us into segments, not by force, but by a desire to connect with people like us. It’s heretic-chic, and it’s what allows me to find folks with OGD and gorge on the produce of their talent. But because they each have this brilliant affliction, I’m not the only one cyber-stalking.

Paul Arden put it out there that all ideas are in the Ether, and our plucking of inspiration from the cloud of collective consciousness does not grant us ownership that we can wear as a medal. But we can accept an official award from proclaimed officially-important folks that may need to be shmoozed, or we can check the number of followers we have on Twitter, views on Youtube, or the balance sheet.  Ayn Rand beleived if you create something good, that’s the product of your own grafting, you should be entitled to unashamedly take the credit, and in her case, profits.

Where she draws the line between making money, and personal versus collective responsibilty is the start of many angry dinner conversations. But it’s this taking of the credit in terms of honour or pride that makes and breaks a lot of talented individuals – whether they cross over to the ‘darkside’ mainstream, try to expand their audience or market by doing something that upsets the old one, sleep with too many fans and get a nasty rash, believe the hype or start putting too much stuff up their nose.

There’s an impossibly fine line between being talented but troublesome, and being a legitimate arsehole, as Russell Brand and Ricky Gervais will testify, whether condemned by others or by your own actions. But that shouldn’t stop us celebrating what’s good. For there to be winners, there don’t always necessarily have to be losers. (I wish somebody had said that to Ed Balls).

Here’s a few OGD ‘sufferers’ who consistently churn out greats. If you have more send them my way. Note: this is a ‘braindump’ and in no way exclusive – this lot came to mind immediately and will be added to.

OGD Criteria: consistently good, original output that challenges, inspires, impresses and is not repetitive or predictable.

Effective analysis of People-Power:

Style, force and energy that’s all her own

  • Janelle Monae

Consistently impressive Music Videos that the band plays a major part in

  • OK GO who actually prompted this entire article because they really are incapable of doing a bad video.

Always-impressive art direction

Consistently dynamic, unashamed-businessman approach to Art World

Eccentric, genuine, energetic music that refuses to go mainstream

Powerful, poetic music that refuses to go mainstream

Use of Satire to create genuine positive change

Intelligent Analysis

Facial expressions that achieve greatness without effort

Making every acting role utterly convincing while entirely different from the last

Consistently funny and very charming blog

Enjoyably surreal and inspired rantage :

Consistently beautiful:

  • The Lake District,
  • 85% of Scotland,
  • A boy I knew once who would be surprised I still think about him
  • The swamps of Louisiana
  • The Islands around Beaufort, South Carolina
  • The Southern Alps of New Zealand
  • The surrounding valley of Kyoto
  • The Norwegian Fjords
  • 60% of Italy
  • The reefs surrounding Fiji

(I’ve a feeling this is a large, subjective category and can only include things I’ve seen so far but all suggestions welcome)

Challenging, conflicting, inspiring yet welcoming city:

But it can’t all be a praise malaise. OGD wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious if there weren’t also some lucky sods who’ve managed to achieve success without creating value of any sort. They have CRISS; Consistently Rubbish but Inexplicably Successful Syndrome. And we’re in the midst of a CRISis. (Apologies to anyone named Chris if I’m forcing your name to be synonymous with shit). Individuals who profit can’t be blamed if we’re happy enough to line their pockets, uttering things like “He really is crap isn’t he?” and then buying his book, but I will take this opportunity to name and shame and expect a smattering of anger from a few diehard fans.

Repetitive Narcissism and crimes against journalism:

  • Piers Morgan

Dogmatic adherence to any form of conspiracy based on loosely-seized speculations that undermine the need for reasoned understanding through easy-to-remember animated videos:

  • Michael Moore

Maintenance of acting career despite only being able to portray one’s self (although in some cases this self may fit a role, eg Jerry Maguire):

  • Tom Cruise
  • Nicholas Cage
  • Michael Ciera
  • Jack Black
  • Anthony Hopkins
  • Drew Barrymore
  • Jennifer Aniston
  • Keira Knightley
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Charlie Sheen
  • Halle Berry
  • Ben Stiller
  • Adam Sandler
  • John Travolta
  • Bruce Willis
  • Morgan Freeman (I know, he’s lovely, but he’s always Morgan Freeman)
  • Ashton Kutcher
  • Katy Holmes
  • Johnny Depp (Yes he’s great but he is always Johny Depp)
  • Robert Downey Jr (Also great but always Robert Downey Jr)

Maintenance of a musical career despite distinct lack of talent:

  • Rihanna
  • Akon
  • Robbie-flippin-Williams
  • Taylor-flippin-Swift
  • James Blunt  (although now serves as a way to criticize someone without offending your mother).

Maintenance of any career despite distinct lack of benefit to society:

  • 70% of Wall Street & the City of London who expect something for nothing, fast, and bugger the rest of us.
  • The Kardashians
  • American Apparel
  • Chihuahuas
  • Traffic Cops
  • Katie Price / Jordan
  • the Game
  • Twista
  • The Olsen Twins
  • Ed Balls

What I’m saying is:

To be fair, at the end of the day, (and this is just my opinion, if I’m being honest), to cut along story short, and stick with me on this, I mean what I say, but really, all things said and done, between you and me,  I have got to tell you something that, personally speaking, I swear you will not believe. Just wait ’til you hear this: Bearing in mind that there’s not really any other way to put it, I have to say, (and I really do mean it), I cannot believe you don’t already know what I’m talking about!

Basically, literally, absolutely, obviously, what it is is this; for me? Personally? In my view, and I can only speak for myself when I say this, honestly, completely, utterly, perfectly, but really, how else are you supposed to look at it? There really is, like, no comparison. you know? I know! Right! Not a chance.

OK, fair enough, I get you, let me rephrase that – try and see it this way, from my angle. I’m not being funny but, actually, to be fair, you don’t have to be an idiot to see, and I’m not going to lie – words can’t even begin to describe it. You know what I’m saying, right? Have you not noticed? I mean, can you imagine? It’s like, in all honesty, seriously!? I mean, I can’t get my head around it. Can you? One doesn’t want to assume, but I would hazard a guess, if you know what I mean, as overall, it’s pretty hard to see it any other way. Almost impossible even.

But, of course, let’s not beat around the bush here. It’s like sometimes, when I’m by myself, I feel like all of this is happening, and it’s just, literally, non stop. You couldn’t make it up. You just could not. You know, right? I mean you tell me!

I know, right?!  True story.


Try telling that to someone from any other era than ours. And don’t get me started about LOL.

Go ahead: Make me.

Working motivation versus ‘Emerging Adulthood’

Boredom is expensive.

A good friend and his colleague each spend an average 2 hours a day on private emails, Facebook, Youtube, chat or Twitter, over the 8 hour working day. Between them, that’s 20 hours non-productivity a week. Over a year, if they’re on $35K salaries,  this costs their company at least $17,500 – $336 a week, (having fun with my calculator today).

Boredom or apathy are regular fixtures of the working week for many. But what creates this daily vegetative yeahwhateverness? It’s not just that my friend is chairman of the bored. Social Media is an element of our routine we’re at least enthused by. Click-click socialising still grows exponentially even after 10 years of global habit, marketing us to our peers in an editable way that’s cheaper than saving up for a nicer car.

A career isn’t for life anymore. And neither are relationships for many. It’d be nice to have a mortgage, but now there’s resilience in having a hobby for six months. We want adventures. We want our friends to see them. We want to look Artistic-Instagramtastic and be very wittily-cleverer on Twitter. We want to work for a year then travel round Thailand/India/Australia/New Zealand/Canada… We’re going to buy a Benelli, put a hammock in the living room, get into Zuccini-growing, beer-brewing, puppy-rearing, navel gazing, belly-button fiddling and have a very, very good time, that will somehow, at some point, involve setting down. Or if we have semi-settled, the year away is still a possibility, and the weekend bingey-benders are a reality.

We think in clicks, quote in tweets and wikipedia on the smart phone means we don’t need to remember anything. Which may lead us to be sitting in a giant dollop of buzzing apathy that doesn’t really feel like it. Are we, or am I, so obsessed with having adventures and indeterminately clicking my way through life that long-term is just that phrase mum keeps going on about, and I can drink into oblivion each weekend?

Who cares?

Ambition is common, and in emerging countries where higher education is not so much a right as a privilege, you won’t find as many students studying Philosophy, Psychology, Fine Art (yeah that’s my Masters right there) Religion, Media Studies, Marketing or Journalism. Chances are these are not what our parents studied, and their parents probably worked instead of studying. These subjects won’t guarantee us a career in this thorny, eye-gauging global market, and few people tell 19 year olds quite how insanely useful work experience and placements actually are.

With a daily sensory fantasia on screen, on demand, on smart-phones and in headphones, millions in their 20s and 30s in North America, Europe and Australasia may be a wee bit discombobulated about what the hell we’re supposed to care about when it comes to careers. I get two or three buddies every week Facebook stat using – “What degree should I do” or “Should I move to Australia/Canada?”

A quietly growing languid phlegmatism in the workplace is the growing norm.  It could be institutional – larger corporations can be veritable hives of the stuff. It could be the weekly hangovers and come-downs and resulting systematic uploads. It could be the employment climate – that we’re all sitting still because we’re scared, and that’s making us unhappy but powerless, not helped by every film celebrating the fighters, movers, shakers, boys with tigers, music and literature telling us to chase our desires, and the end of old-world ideas. Diesel says be stupid. Perfume brands say ‘Never settle’. Compare sites say ‘See what’s out there’. Move jobs, or just click on the funny site with the cats falling over. Who cares, anyway?


Get on with it.

Good point. Motivation. Separate that word from nonsenical selfhelp books written by Gurus with questionable personal lives, and it’s the “force that energizes behavior, gives direction, and underlies the tendency to persist”[1] . It’s internal. It can’t be measured or given a one-size-fits-all. That would be as likely as bottling up pure intelligence and giving samples to the people that stand right night to the airport luggage carousel so nobody can see their bags without following suit. (Possibly the same people who find their bearings at the top of escalators or infront of subway exits – I’m ranting now aren’t I).

11 hour days go by a lot quicker with a degree of responsibility, challenge or sense of achievement. Creativity 100% of the time would be a pure loony bin, but just 10% can keep employees happy. An artist spends hours stretching and priming canvasses, cleaning brushes and palettes, then figuring out who to sell to and what level of epic bullshittery he needs to say to fit the required Bollocksian-Theorization quota, then apply it. A successful professional artist, the paradigm of creativity by profession, realistically spends 10% of his time being truly creative, and the rest, doing the above. An Advertising Creative, if he wants to respond to the brief properly and do what he’s supposed to, probably does the same. They are not singing and dancing at their desks all day while you’re plodding through spreadsheets. But 10% of the ‘fun stuff’, the insight bit, the how-do-we-make-this-better bit, the recognising-a-good-point-someone-else-made bits, justifies all the prep, the outselling and the justification. When there’s ownership, faith you can do this, and insight, time blurs between projects with no room for boredom.

But regardless of internal and workplace motives and triggers, shouldn’t we be busier now than ever? Not feeling sorry for ourselves but fighting a paltry employment climate and a bunch of forboding doomsayers predicting the end of western ways with the rise of China and India and the Euro Meltdown/Crisis/Apocalypse. Calm down  – to challenge the quote of a former UK Education minister Ed Balls, for there to be Winners there don’t always have to be Losers. Whether you’re a plumber or a writer, it’s a lot more fun improving the whole standard, on the same team, than filling in the gaps.

Back to the office.

Management. A word that invokes the same beautiful emotions as the words “Hemorrhoids/Wakefield/. To manage motivation in any workplace there must be a degree of understanding between manager and individual; what both parties can or can’t do. One employee responds to pressure, another thrives left alone. One manager needs to kick everyone’s backsides every morning. The other buys cookies on Tuesdays.

The same applies to a company’s ethos in an adaptive structure with flexible policies that permeate each level. I’ve seen this in a couple of great companies – it makes me want to stay, work harder and make better things with great people. A structure that maximises potential retains talent, which encourages more. (Personal examples: Shaun Lloynds & Jon Leigh of Mccann Birmingham and Mark Lindley of Cogent Elliott, Neil Williams in Saatchi & Saatchi Dubai).

An effective manager identifies an individual’s strengths, weaknesses and working style. The skill-set analysis is the start – find out what they can do, let them, try them out on a few more things, and continue the process: assessing, utilizing, stimulating and encouraging, for productivity, output and your bottom line.

What can you do for me?

In any industry, many managers progress to senior roles through tenacity & hard-work, and rightly so, and not always through the ability to manage or recognize the abilities of others.  Art Tutors would rather be artists, and this can have a profound impact on their pupils (you be the judge of whether that’s autobiographical or not).

Good managers do hire good managers, but encouragement of specializiation and autonomy still needs maintaining through structure or policy; development plans, opportunities for growth, one-to-ones and group activities. Not just because “he’s great”.

Sociologist Max Weber said “Only by strict specialization can [the worker] become fully conscious, …that he has achieved something that will endure. A really definitive and good accomplishment is today always a specialized act.” [2] He sounds like a barrel of laughs, but that’s hard to argue against.  I don’t think you should limit yourself purely to one thing, but you can’t do one thing properly until you commit to it. I think I can multi-task, and I really, really can’t.

Then as far as creating that ‘specialized’ “definitive and good accomplishment” women have an added hindrance everyone knows but isn’t spoken about. One of my idols, Sheryl Sandberg addressed how this affected motivation in her brilliant TED talk (WATCH IT). Women stop speaking up in the boardroom and going full throttle in their careers, when they’ve privately made the decision that in a couple of years they may get out for a bit and have a child. She argues that despite that decision, keep going, so you’re not at a disadvantage when you have to come back. Thinking you’ll pause some time down the line shouldn’t distract you from doing your best now, and you’ll be better equipped to return.

Weber’s ‘strict specialization’, and staying ‘fully conscious’  are much, much harder with a child in the mix, but let that shift happen when the baby’s here – not pre-ovum. (That’s easy for me to say pre-baby).

The sorority sisters in this picture are now mothers of successful business ladies who are mothers themselves.

With babies or without, the luxury of relying on one income is harder now than ever. Girls need to be as motivated as the boys – and while they’re streets ahead in school, after university the stats are still stacked against the ladies in salary terms.

but whether you’re management or on your way up, what are the triggers for motivation? In 1990 the Harvard Business Review provided a study of 1,685 employees from a mix of professions; nurses, manufacturing, food handling, engineers and military officers.

The top factors that led to “extreme satisfaction” were achievement and recognition. Factors that led to “extreme dissatisfaction” were company policy & administration, and supervision. Salary didn’t come into it.  The findings are 20 years old, but correspond with the ‘Hierarchy of physiological needs’ by psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 60s. This was a moody-looking pyramid with self actualization and esteem up top, and safety and physiological needs (job security, salary and working conditions) at the bottom.

Maslow’s theory illustrates our tendency to cover the basics and then seek out more to fuel our sense of worth. Once we have pay, coffee, a desk, toilet facilities etc, we want security and benefits. Then we need to get on with our peers and superiors. Once these are covered we look for prestige, challenges and opportunities for creativity. But perhaps that’s not the same now.

Corporate Bollocks.

Global corporations are described as bureaucratic beasts: “an administrative, policy-making group; government characterized by specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules and a hierarchy of authority”. [4]  Now that’s not the enemy outright, and there’s always a good reason for a good process, which can work in your favour.

If motivation comes from engagement, a CEO at a company I worked at released this statement; “Engaged employees are involved, passionate and more productive.” He described a ‘performance culture’ where folks were ‘informed about and engaged in business strategy.” Informed about and then engaged in? That’s not very involved. That’s a military deployment in a Bruce Willis movie. How about some buzz words a bit less Stazi; ‘ Shaped’, ‘identified’ ‘contributed to’ or ‘generated’.

This rigid sense of process is why employees in bigger corporations can cling vicariously to activities that will make them seem busy but are not always profitable, from unnecessary meetings (commonplace) to structures in place for months, sometimes years,  rendered obsolete only when an newcomer with enough authority recognizes their futility.

In their essay “A Pragmatic Approach to People Problems” Sirota and Wolfson argue “Corporations, like human organisms, are subject to stress, to change… ..:a tendency to inertia. The result can be a gradual accumulation of policies and practices that, like a bad diet, overload the organs and place burdens on the members struggling to keep it alive.” [5]

‘Emerging Adulthood’

Why are so many 20 and 3o somethings still figuring out what they want to do? ‘Emerging Adulthood’ is the de rigeur phrase bandied about in the media to describe a major shift in motivation for this age-group, one already impacting society.

On August 18th 2010 Robin Marantz Henig’s article in the New York Times asked; “What is it about 20-Somethings?” The prospects of young men and women, traditionally “built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school,  start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, start careers…” [6] no longer apply, as young people do not stay in the ‘burbs, or attach themselves to one partner, a permanent home, one career, letalone the same job for 25 years.

Professional stability is harder to come by too. If you don’t like your job, you look around. Unpaid internships are plentiful and one third of 20-somethings shift homes every year. Just under half move back to live with parents at least once. Psychology professor Jeffrey Jenson Arnett  argues that this shift is down to increased demand for education, but fewer entry-level jobs. I would also venture that the subjects we choose more often than not are aimed at expanding our minds more than back accounts.

Being able to move back home with mum and dad, or share with pals instead of buying property means salary is not as big a motivator as it was for our parents, who had mortgages in mind in their early twenties. This fits David C McClelland’s Acquired-Needs theory: If our needs are based on life experiences, we’re used to getting what we want so why work so hard? We could chase our dreams and so on roadtrips with our buddies. We don’t have to settle down and the partying continues unabashed.

Can management deal with this lack of urgency? Should it? Does a shift in motives require a shift in rewards? And is that realistic in today’s economy? Or should we accept that College-Educated majors will be serving us in KFC?

Give me something to believe in

Dan Pink’s wildly popular Youtube hit:  Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us (WATCH IT) redefines Maslow’s hierarchy of need in a new force– the Third Drive. Besides food or money we do things because of a third form of motivation:

“…because they are interesting… because we like them. Because they’re inherently gratifying.  …because we get better at them, because they’re the right things to do or because they make a contribution or they’re part of some larger purpose. We have that drive.” [7]

And that’s it. That’s what I’m getting at. In a time when often the biggest companies are best equipped to survive this economic stagnation, where does that leave 20 to 40 somethings who want to grow, make a contribution or feel part of a bigger purpose? Aren’t most of them going to be bitterly disappointed?

Minimal job security, more movement, more ambition, less direction, more training, less opportunities, and a hell of a conundrum to figure out a new hierarchy of needs. But Salary is not top. At least not until we’re a lot older than our parents were when it was..

We are not as manipulative.” Pink argues.  “Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose[8] take a different route to financial motivation. When a task gets complicated, traditional motivators don’t work.  …if managers want engagement, self direction is an incredible motivator. …understanding the abilities of your employee will show you what they’re good at, then set them to it and let them get on with it.

Pink gives an example of an Aussie company who, once a quarter, let developers work on what they want for 24 hours, and present it. That day creates products and solutions that would not happen otherwise. It’s not down to a bonus but autonomy and our urge to improve. There’s no financial rationale, but it’s something we can take credit for, and feel pride in.

Challenge, mastery and making a contribution has given rise to Purpose. It’s a progressive managerial policy (albeit at first in PR – “look everyone! Look how forward-thinking we’re being! Now buy some shares”) and in recruiting – “come here, shape things” – ‘develop’, ‘generate’, ‘strategize’, ‘initiate’, etc. This reflects the new ideals and beliefs that matter to emerging adults. Inspiring places to work. The opportunity to do great things.

My sister left her prestigious city job and is now starting a Tourism company in Western Kenya that involves and directly supports local communities. I am massively proud of her ability to go with her gut, ‘shape things”, ‘develop’, ‘generate’, ‘strategize’ and ‘initiate’. A contribution which is part of a ‘larger purpose.

Pink’s Youtube video has been viewed nearly five million times so far. Motivation and productivity now stem from freedom to create, and ownership of an idea.

The game has changed, but a few of the big players haven’t spotted it yet. Now, when the bottom line matters more than ever, a weighty bureaucratic organization must adapt to stay competitive and maintain talent.

That means less meetings, processes or bureaucracy. It doesn’t mean newsletters that keep employees “informed about and engaged in” strategy. It involves one-to-one chats, observation, understanding, recognising ability, building on strengths, developing trust and getting on with it. (And perhaps banning Facebook in the office).

Let me see what you can do. If we can use it, do it the best you can, and get on with it. And if you do, I’ll give you something fun to do, and then you’ll want to stick around.

BIPCO: Birmingham Institute of Popular Culture

The challenge was to pick an American Business Model and apply it to a market outside the states where it’s not already. A friend suggested “bringing culture to Birmingham”, an easy jibe at my hometown,  not often regarded as an inspirational hotspot.

Brooklyn Museum and the Queens Museum of Art  are two dynamic, accessable ‘institutions’ that showcase plenty without intimidation. Both have a bit of everything, with enough to satiate and fascinate without brain implosion. My home town (or ‘Brum’) has a traditional art museum, but nothing so far that shouts about the wealth of groundbreaking culture 9and yes – I said ‘groundbreaking’, because it is) that comes from our ridiculed doorstep.

While researching this project I found a property magnate called ‘Mr Gray’ who owns a substantial part of the Victorian Industrial landscape of the city called Digbeth –old red-brick factories and warehouses, and many buildings I know and love.

The plan, depending on reception of this post, is to turn this into a concerted pitch to Mr Gray and his family, the city council, and the many artists who are or have been part of this city, to carve out a Birmingham Institute of Popular Culture in Digbeth. Bipco is the working title.

A few reasons why:

(If you don’t know them already, click on them – it won’t hurt)

And more why:

Seen as a huge, decaying industrial city separated into racial segments, Birmingham shares a lot of negatives with NYC, and not many of the positives. It gave birth to much of 70s and 80s Trojan Ska, was home to significant stages of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, 70s and 80s Glam Rock and Orchestral Folk, 90s Dance music, Middle Earth, a smattering of major Feminist novels of the 80s and the IRA pub bombings.
Birthplace and home of many of much-loved car-makes of the UK auto industry, Brum hosted the ideological fighting ground between Trade Unions and Thatcher’s Government. It’s home to Cadbury’s chocolate, more canals than venice, and a gentle, self depricating humour that belies an extroardinary resilience, kindness and friendliness. This last element is probably why it has attracted so many international communities who are happy to call the Second City second home.

I hoped time in NewYork City would increase my understanding and respect for the celebration of competing ideas, cultures and movements in one place. It has, and now I know it can be done, and well, and we have lots to celebrate.

If Birmingham is a melting pot suffering record unemployment which now drives mounting racial tensions, Arts and Media can address this locally and globally, by directing positive co-operation across groups and regions. NYC is a city that has engendered a colossal and admirable sense of identity despite many turbulent historical events and periods. So too can Brum.

New York in the 80s and 90s and Berlin in the late 70s suffered record crime stats and widespread civil unrest[1], thanks to crack and amphetamines, and ultimately, unemployment. Despite this, both established or maintained a rep as avante-garde destinations; pioneering a myriad of styles that are loyally iconic, despite imitations.

It’s not hard for a city that has magnetized artists for nearly two hundred years, but in Berlin’s case, it was a concerted effort by its council after reunification, to allow areas in or around previous ‘No-mans’-land’ to be taken over by artists collectives, while the council invested in brand new institutions that now form an ensemble known as ‘Museum Land’,  a UNESCO world heritage site.[2]

I was given a book called “The Rotters Club” about 70s Brum, when the auto industry was collapsing under the weight of the unions versus bureaucrats lining their pockets. In a time of widening unrest, factious groups reinforced division and hostility. Sound familiar?

Today local industries continue to be pummeled while bankers’ bonuses remain undimmed in the mighty cash-now pay-later culture riding high both in Wall Street and the City of London. Now is a good time to stem the exodus of industry and intelligent folks, and provide an asserted reason to be proud & part of a region hitherto uncelebrated.

Birmingham versus New York.

Ouch. In an area the size of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten island, the Birmingham Metropolitan area (or West Midlands Conurbation) has a population of 3,683,000, (encompassing Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley, West Bromwich and Solihull), [3] compared to New york’s 8.3 million.

3.6 million is not small fry. It means for every 8 New Yorkers there are nearly 4 brummies. But you won’t find New Yorkers taking a tour of Walsall canals,  the forlorn 1758 Perrott’s Folly or a bus tour of the Black Country.

In the 2001 Census the Birmingham area was the second largest UK conurbation outside London,[4] hence the name Second City. But you won’t find the strength of identity and sense of place that Manchester, Liverpool or Glasgow have. And if the NY population is 2.27 times the size of Brum, shouldn’t Arts facilities and cultural resources be similar in ratio?  This bit hurts:

  • New York’s Broadway district (8 streets less than half a mile long) is home to forty  theatres with 500 seats or more. Greater Birmingham’s got four.
  • The Big Apple has atleast 40 major arts organizations. Birmingham has the acclaimed Birmingham Royal Ballet and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. So that’s two.
  • Two major public art collections and two contemporary art spaces  in Brum, compared to New York’s over five hundred.[5]

The funding’s not there, but the people are. 81% of graduates of Birmingham’s Bournville Art College who end up working in arts-related roles leave the area to do so.

Birmingham can’t compete in media either. UK media is unashamedly Londoncentric, with a few regional think-tanks holding their chins, (a few very good ones, a few you never hear about) and some token gestures from the big corporations. ‘The regions’ get an hour’s daily local news split over the day, three soap operas, a few crime dramas and the odd short film at 3am. This wouold be the equivalent to Washington being the setting for Madmen, Dexter, the Sopranos, the Wire, the Daily Show, SNL, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Letterman, GLEE and the entire Hollywood Film industry, while other USA cities get CSI offshoots.

The Product.

Bipco: the foundation of a permanent popular-culture centre that celebrates Birmingham’s past, present and future through its contributions to the arts and media in the last 200 years.

A start-up, Bipco (definitely a working title) would be a cultural establishment that occupies a gaping chasm in a market of 3.68 million. It will generate self-sustaining-income through venue events, merchandise and of course, the café. It will increase investment in the local economy by a) helping to attract and keep local talent through provision of another major venue and activity base, b) improving perceptions of the city as a local and national tourist attraction.

If you’re still with me please click on a few more of the links in bullets at the top.

Bipco would be a non-profit, long-term addition to the city’s landscape, supporting communities through events, workshops, outreach projects and city-wide activities.

Birmingham has traditional and modern art galleries and plenty of very decent music venues, so this will be a centre that houses a large permanent exhibition space covering a cross-section of the arts, in five main categories:

  • Music and radio,
  • Literature,
  • Art and Design
  • Performance
  • Moving image

The premises would encompass at least two spaces for performances, (with required specialist facilities) and at least one for temporary exhibitions, plus revenue generation of the shop, café and ticket-sales for selected events. “Exit through the gift shop” and all that.

Putting it in practice.

The Brooklyn Museum reflects the diversity of its neighbourhoods both in permanent and temporary collections. Collections from Africa and the Americas are a permanent resource, while the contemporary American and Feminist art sections feature local artists. Its impressive building was purpose-built, and supports a grand permanent exhibition.

The Brooklyn Museum represents the spirit of its region through a digestable, manageable selection that shows diversity and vibrance, rather than high-end specialization, and covers a broad range of topics manageably.

The Queens Art Museum’s mission statement reads; “dedicated to presenting the highest quality visual arts and educational programming […]  for the residents of Queens, a uniquely diverse ethnic, cultural and international community.[6]

The Museum does this through rotating exhibitions, community projects and engagement activities such as weekend  projects with local teenagers and school children from different ethnic groups.

These projects in Queens aim to relate “to the contemporary urban life of its constituents”.

A challenge:  the mindset.

The Brummy sensibility is both a strength and a weakness. Brummies are a no-nonsense, get-on-with-it, pull-yourself-together lot, and their humour is very self deprecating. We know our accent creates derision nationwide. We know Ozzy Osborne and Noddy Holder would not make respected statesmen. We can laugh at ourselves thankyouverymuch. And this is why the city produces plenty of comedians; Tony Hancock. Frank Skinner, Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood, Jasper Carrot and many others doing just that.

Unless a football derby is involved, Brummies are not likely to militantly  instill pride in their kin, unlike Mancs or Glaswegians who have many more establishments and institutions to show for themselves.

An example of what we’re contending with here is the hugely popular website: Birmingham: it’s not shit www.birminghamitsnotshit.com which describes itself as “mildly sarcastic since 2002”. It’s a popular forum with a name that’s accepted with a shrug and a grin, and 9,472 fans on Facebook (at time of writing).

Successful artists tend to leave the city to establish themselves, and rarely come back. If Brummies are more likely to mock themselves than proclaim their talents (elsewhere), this could imply Bipco may not be taken seriously on home turf. We can meet that head on by not doing that through broad subject matter – easily done with a splash of colour, plenty of interactive sections, and a big fat focus on comedy, Bangra, Ska, varied events and an engaging community programme.

Bipco’s content can address ‘Brummy Cultural export’ by recognising that nothing exists in a vacuum. Bipco would need to showcase elements of popular culture in general, and with the varying ethnicities of the city, there is a wealth of this. One example would be Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian cultures, which would form part of all five categories of the museum

3 regional newspapers compare to 270 NY publications for ethnic press alone. The Midlands has the lowest UK proportion of people identifying themselves as white, with above-average Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Caribbean populations. Media specific to these groups is often not widely publicized outside of them in proportion to their sizes.

Bipco can draw on this, in the home city of much of the BBC’s Asian Network. You won’t find an Asian-centric talkshow on mainstream television, despite Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis being 1 in 20 of the UK population and 1 in 5 in Birmingham.

Nearly but not quite.

Walsall Contemporary Art gallery is a respected attraction that hosts impressive names in contemporary art, but doesn’t chiefly reflect local artists.80% of visitors (excluding school groups) are not from the surrounding area. It does however, draw income from out-of-towners effectively, and suggests there’s a danger of restricting our market if we solely promote locals, rather than looking at the wider spectrum.

The Drumhttp://www.the-drum.org.uk/about-us/ is the brilliant centre for West Indian and Caribbean culture in the UK. Arguably this too doesn’t focus solely on the Midlands, but is a buzzing venue for nationwide contemporary projects. The MAC, or Midlands Arts Centre is also a respected contemporary arts venue across the board, that again, doesn’t reflect the local region’s past or present through a permanent resource.

Location Location.

I shouldn’t be talking about the building until we’ve discussed where the cash will come from,  but the building itself will be a major part of the identity of the institution; marketability, sense of place and selling power.

The area of Digbeth is a central region  regenerated 15 years ago by the development of the Custard Factory, an arts centre in the site of the former Birds Custard manufacturing premises. A large, multi-purpose space, it provided venues for nightlife,  exhibitions and design & media studios. As a venue for community activities not only has it remained successful and consistently evolving, but while continuining to be home to a number of marketing agencies, it has succeeded in regenerating the area and a sense of pride.

As a result, the Old Crown, (est 1368) a nearby pub, was  renovated, along with the 19th century Digbeth Institute, now a popular music venue. Modern apartment blocks were built, and Digbeth transformed from a slightly shabby area of dereliction, to the place I bring out-of-towners to to show my city off.

The area has taken a slight dip in recent years, now that suburbs like Moseley and King Heath have upped their game, but Digbeth is still brimming with historic architecture that maintains its character and says much for the city’s past. It’s ideal. both in  history and proximity to the two busiest train stations and bus routes, within walking distance of the  landmark Selfridges building.


Collections and Subjects in Bipco.

The fun bit. In the five main categories, each would require a permanent space, with permanent exhibition boards. Collating information and images from archives, pleas in Social Media forums, and through contacts throughout the area, it would be a labour of love to develop a collection of artifacts that would form the basis of the museum.

My wish-list:

  • 70s Glam Rock Platform platforms
  • A set of 70s SKA Doc Martens
  • Roy Wood’s beard
  • The formaldehided headless corpse of a bat bitten by Ozzy Osborne
  • A Pre-Raphaelite allegoryby Edward Burne Jones
  • Dave Mason’s drumsticks
  • A 1930s Rover
  • Some victorian custard
  • Tony Hancock’s Trilby
  • Historic Cadbury wrappers
  • Iconic Cadbury ads
  • A Jaguar S Type
  • A sculpture made of Dunlop Tyres

A Social Media (and general media) campaign could encourage requests for items, while a private bidding war went on behind closed doors, with a budget of at least 2.5 million pounds to establish a long-term collection and assets in earnest.

A simultaneous project would encourage collaboration with the three local universities, Aston, Birmingham and Birmingham City and specialist Media and Arts colleges to gather info on sections. Here an employee would establish institutional ties in collating the history of  each section with experts, as well as encouraging  opportunities to enlist help of students at each of the three major local universities.

Employees  for this immediate stage would be: an Artifacts and Collections manager, a chief specialist in each section to liaise with educational institutions and get the facts straight, a marketing manager and copywriter who would draft the first exhibitions, press and publicity, a curatorial team, plus a team of assistants and interns to help with the sheer volume of the task.


This is where I throw a load of numbers out there and see what happens. A bit like a wet paper towel on the ceiling of the ladies’ loos.

Boom: a total of 7.7 million british pounds for initial investment. The refurbishment and renovation of a 12,000 sq metre building (the minimum space for a project this size – roughly half that of the Brooklyn museum) would cost between 3 and 4 million pounds, while 0.7 million would be required for staffing, a minimum of 0.7 million for publicity, and 2.4 million for acquisition of a permanent collection.

The building, while not being  purpose- built, would require extensive renovation to house the varying specialist activities effectively and securely, from a well lit spacious gallery space to an insulated and well-powered live-music venue

Potential avenues that this would have been: the UK Arts Council, the  Lottery Fund, Government grants and Advantage West Midlands. Local Corporate sponsorship would be encouraged through the naming of specific wings (in particular the café/bar area or live venue spaces) alongside a range of corporate commissioned semi-permanent or permanent pieces that reflect companies that make up the landscape of Birmingham: Cadbury’s, Land Rover, JCB, Marmite, Wing Yip..

And there’s a fly-or-fail factor with Digbeth. This part of town is owned by the Gray family. The patriarch, Bennie, is described as having ‘dynastic’ ambitions for the quarter. Commenting on a proposed $10 million expansion to the Custard Factory, the project was described as “only a fraction of Mr Gray’s ambitions for Digbeth – where he and his family own “acres and acres” of property, which one day he hopes will provide accommodation for more than 5,000 people working in the creative industries.[1]

“The Custard Factory is enormous,” Bennie says, “We’ve got many acres of Digbeth, and we’ve only scratched the surface of the potential for developing a place for creative enterprise.”

The family have successfully attracted big investors, so much so that at present Digbeth seems to be the only viable location for Bipco, so there’s no question they will need to be on side or a major part of the process. They’ve garnered sponsorship from Advantage West Midlands, one of the key bodies to approach for this project. If this is to be built, it needs to be either in league with the Grays, or some place else.

I going to start by pitching Bipco to government groups and corporate investors, but first and foremost, to get Bennie Gray on side, and failing that, to collate a list of Birmingham’s most affluent and/or influential residents and corporations, and set up a ‘Friends Of Bipco’ trust that would encourage initial investment, and hope the Grays would be happy as landlords.

Hopefully the end result would be something that could stem the exodus of talent to London by helping to regenerate not just the immediate area, but a sense of pride in a region with plenty to be proud about. 

[1] http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2010/05/28/10m-expansion-at-custard-factory-hints-at-greater-ambition-for-digbeth-65233-26545553/#ixzz1EHs7gs8L

If you’ve read this all the way through, please, tell me your thoughts or ideas, (and definitely better names) whether I’m being realistic, idealistic, opportunistic or sadistic, and help me get this on its way.

[1] http://www.scribd.com/doc/322928/Langan-rel The Remarkable Drop in Crime in New York City1 Patrick A Langan

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin#Museums.2C_galleries

[3] British urban pattern: population data” (PDF). ESPON project 1.4.3 Study on Urban Functions. European Union – European Spatial Planning Observation Network. March 2007. pp. 119–120. http://www.espon.eu/export/sites/default/Documents/Projects/ESPON2006Projects/StudiesScientificSupportProjects/UrbanFunctions/fr-1.4.3_April2007-final.pdf.

[4] http://www.statistics.gov.uk/census2001/profiles/commentaries/west_midlands.asp

[5] http://www.citidex.com/2504.htm

[6] http://www.queensmuseum.org/about/aboutmission

[7] http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2010/05/28/10m-expansion-at-custard-factory-hints-at-greater-ambition-for-digbeth-65233-26545553/#ixzz1EHs7gs8L