Tag Archives: new york

5 reasons why money can’t buy progress

I am not, despite some recent discussions, opposed to money. I like money. Who doesn’t like money? But there is danger sometimes of seeing money as an absolute, something than universally incentivises, shapes behaviour, and supports progress. Money isn’t the root of all evil. But neither is it the root of all progress. It fact often it may be a relatively weak incentive to progress…and sometimes a disincentive.

Anyway, here are 5 reasons why money can’t buy progress. And since I can’t set my blog to music, I am just going to suggest you play this for a few seconds to get you in the right mood.

1) Cash rewards can be a disincentive to performance

“For simple, straightforward tasks, rewards work. And the bigger the incentive, the more they work.

When a task gets more complicated, and requires conceptual, creative thinking (like genuinely progressive tasks) autonomy, mastery and purpose are all much better incentives than money.

…And when the profit motive is detached from the purpose motive. Bad things happen.”

2. A Fine is a Price (not a disincentive)

Often we try to use money, or more often the removal of money, to drive better behaviour. More often the opposite happens, because paying money is an excuse for acting like a jerk.

Clay Shirky spoke on this subject last week at the MIT Media Lab, describing how schools have experimented with enforcing fines for parents who are late picking up their kids. Rather than reducing late pick-ups, this fine increased them – because suddenly it was about the cost, not the basic lack of humanity towards teachers who have been cooped up with your kids all day and want to get on with their lives. And then even when the fines are removed, people continue to act like jerks.

If you want a more visceral example, spend some time in New York restaurants. People’s blood will boil with rage if you fail to leave at least an 18.5% tip for your waiter. But it is also entirely normal for people to not say thank you when waiters bring them things. Because a fine is a price.

Clay Shirky, auditioning for inclusion in watch people jump

3. The balance sheet is a scorecard, not a business plan

Every great company that I have come into contact with has a clear vision or mission that comes before everyone else. For example Google exist to organize the world’s information (and not be evil.) And IKEA have the wonderfully Swedish vision of ‘Creating a Better Life for the Many People.’

These vision-led companies are of course insanely huge and insanely profitable. But they didn’t start with the balance sheet. Their healthy balance sheets simply reflect that they are well-run companies with a powerful economic vision. Any company that starts its business planning with the balance sheet will mainly go backwards. Because the balance sheet is a scorecard not a business plan (copyright, the smartest guy I know.)

The IK in IKEA - amazing at making money, more passionate about getting well-designed furniture in the homes of low-middle income families

4. The design constraint of ultra-affordability

It is so easy to be stupid when you have lots of money. When you have no money, you have no choice but to be very smart.

Now there is no denying that some degree of resource is essential to invention, and quite a lot of resource is often essential for true innovation – because to go really big, you need some support.

But it is no accident that Larry and Sergey started in a garage, using Lego as a key building component. Or, on the flip-side, that the fat cats of tech are being gobbled up by geeks locked in basements. Starting with the assumption that money is not going to solve the problem makes you focus on what is really going to solves the problem. ie, you.

Dammit...got to buy a garage...

5. The poor man has the best tunes

Quality of creative output is inversely proportional to relative wealth status. Or…it is in your interest to keep your favourite bands small, because once they get rich they won’t be able to make good music any more.

There is a big caveat here, which is that the creative process requires freedom, basic tools etc. And DOUBLE caveat – once you get back to the beginning of this century, this is a pattern that obviously falls over. It is fair to say you had to be rich to be Proust. Or Tolstoy. Or that you had to be at least able to support a lifestyle at a royal or ecclesiastical Court to make any music or drama in Europe for many centuries. Almost too many caveats to make this meaningful…

BUT there is certainly a trend in pop culture of character learnt in adversity, great work done as adversity turns into popularity, and then decadence as wealth sets in. Because extreme wealth is distracting, isolating, and destructive of motivation. Which is one of the reasons you can go from the intensity of the band at the top of this post to the artist at the bottom in a little over a decade…



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Scientific progress without humanity – Monty Python healthcare in New York

If you want enough medication to tranquilize an elephant, CSI-style forensic testing, or the highest standards of litigation-proof risk management, the healthcare system in New York is for you.

If you want to have sane conversations with sane people, or retain a sense of emotional or spiritual welfare…or indeed combine both of these things with preparing for the birth of a child, I recommend you give it a wide birth.

As with many things, Monty Python explained this situation many years ago better than I possibly can.

“OK. Take her into the foetus-frightening room”.

“And get the most expensive machines, in case the administrator comes.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll soon have you cured.”


Of course, this clip is from 1983, and needless to say it was a bit of a shock to me (to say the least) to see that this is still the prevailing approach in New York hospitals. (And rather worse…for example there are hospitals near hear with a C-Section rate of nearly 50%, and rising.)

Why is this?

Well, lots of reasons. The first is that actually, in lots of respects, New York is actually quite an old-fashioned place, its psychology laced with a strong dose of 1920 gothic ambition and a prevailing undercurrent of 1980s materialism – which combine to support an undercurrent of faith in the power of money and pharmaceuticals and surgery that can seem jarringly antiquated. Also, more obviously of course, this is the most litigious place on earth, and everyone is absolutely terrified of doing anything wrong for fear of having these guys after you.

Do you find you frequently need to sue people for personal injury? Like, often enough to need an App on your phone? Come to New York.

But there is something else going on as well. The single biggest difference in being treated by the NHS vs the New York health system is the bias that money puts on the care you receive. The NHS is of course constantly strapped for cash, and thus trying to minimize the care you receive – particularly when it comes to testing and medicine. In New York, the only people who want to keep your treatment costs low are the insurers and the patients.

Thus it is in the interest of everyone who treats you to test you as often as possible, to interpret those tests in a way that requires further tests or treatment, to give you as much medicine as possible…but at the same time to get you through beds as fast as possible (because you don’t pay by the hour.) Honestly, for those guys who haven’t experienced this system, you would not believe how scary it feels to require medical treatment but feel like a walking cash machine.

If you sewed your wallet inside your body, these guys would find it.

Throughout of course, this money-driven compulsion to treat is presented as evidence of the extent of progress and capability in the health system – and in some cases this is true. It is certainly easier to get some forms of expensive and useful treatment in New York than in London. But overall, the system stinks. Because it is driven by money, not humanity (my next post will be on some other aspects of the flaws of money as an incentive to progress.)

I wanted to end with a thought, which has occurred to me a few times – which is that resource in this kind of area is a neat balance. There is never ‘enough’ money for health. Having more money in your health service is generally better for patient outcomes. But there is also something to be said for what has been elegantly described as ‘the design constraint of ultra-affordability.’ Because we shouldn’t assume that the right thing to do and the most expensive thing to do are always the same.


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why is the time gap between new york and london variable?

i feel that little bit closer to the people of britain this week. one hour closer to be specific.

so the clocks in great britain have already moved back. those in new york have as yet not. so for a brief moment in time, the time difference is one hour shorter. for me, this has already led to several near-misses in terms of getting to conference call meeting on times. imagine what the economic impact could have been. ok, almost nothing. but is was at least an inconvenience.

one of the driving forces of modernisation is standardisation. it seems bizarre to me that we can’t all get together and agree to end this absurd practice. but how exactly would we ‘get together’? i assume that the UN has no ministry of international administrative detail. but maybe they should.

peace and security - check. human rights - check. ministry of clocks and time zones - nope.

CORRECTION – their IS a UN body responsible for the standardization of measures, processes and protocols. They need to pull their fingers out (and improve their web presence…) http://www.unece.org/cefact/

ok, so i don’t think everything should be internationally standardised. the defiant (and ironic) defence of the imperial system of measurement in america seems to be somewhat noble. the realignment of the side of the road on which people drive would have so many implications in physical rebuilding that i can accept that getting everyone to drive on the left hand side of the road is probably not practical. but some degree of further standardisation would seem to be in order.

like phone chargers for example. don’t even get me started on phone chargers. or indeed power points generally. grr.

a handy object that really should not exist

and this is just the international problem.what about some of the little things. today, i had to fill in my personal details in two different formats. within one office. why is there not an internationally recognised layout for forms, in which the basic details are listed in the same order. or, again even better, a single ‘personal detail’ sheet that can be taken to any new doctor’s office, or tax office, or HR department, meaning that all these different office need to do is produce a form for the supplementary information required.

(or, even better, allow me to email or submit an online form. that would really work well).

but how are we ever going to get to that point when we can’t even agree what order to list day/month/year. and agree that it’s definitely NOT month first.

a visual representation of obvious nonsense

to rescue myself from the pedantic whine into which i seem to be descending, there is a serious point here. whether on a national or an international basis, all societies are constantly stretching themselves to innovate: commercially, militarily, ethically. but who is taking care of innovating the boring stuff? to use our time more efficiently, with less stress and trauma, to allow us to focus our creative juices on the big stuff?

for a perspective on this in business, see the excellent rory sutherland (via dave ibsen’s rather good blog. but is anyone covering this for government? and what about on an international level?


btw – i now have some handy social media buttons below. if you like it, ‘like’ it. if you don’t, then leave me a comment as to why…


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the unevenly distributed future – 5 things that should be available in america, but aren’t

we live in a world obsessed with technological progress. or, more precisely, a world in which specific aspects of the assumed future are fetishised at any time.

at the moment, if i could create an iphone app that could tell you how to scratch your posterior, i’m confident i could get a few people to buy it, and probably a lot more journalists to write about it.

in this world, it is my professional duty to help people with significant business interests at stake to predict what forms of technology are going to be important in society in the future.

this, clearly, is impossible.

fortunately, there are a range of appropriate philosophical statements that help me to avoid this tricky social situation. my favourite, hands down is this one, that i believe came from william gibson, via clay shirky (see right), via chris stephenson/mediation (see right)

thanks william gibson. people don't have android brain implants yet though.


i find this a very useful way to help explain things…like why devising marketing for mobile phones is not in fact a remote prospect, but a high priority in the countries of africa or the far east…or why i can guess what we’re all going to be doing in a couple of years by looking at what teenagers are doing now…

however, that wasn’t i wanted to talk about today. i just wanted to share my astonishment and perfectly obvious and everyday inventions that for some reason don’t seem to travel between continents, despite their obvious benefit.

so here we go. 5 bits of the present or recent past in the uk that for some reason haven’t made it to the USA.

1. the electric kettle

it’s not like you actually can’t get one. you can get our hands on a very small, travel-focused kettle. or, of course an electric hot water device to help you make coffee. but if you go into any american home, the changes are that any cup of tea you get made will be made from water boiled for 10 minutes in a large ceramic cauldron-like receptacle.

it’s slow. it wastes energy. it means you hurt your hands when you grab the handle, 9 times out of 10. but, even in walmart, no electric kettle. just crazy.

electric kettles. better.

2. the affordable, healthy loaf of bread

so the USA is the third largest producer of wheat in the world, just marginally behind china and india. it’s population is built from many of the finest bread producing cultures all over the world. we live in an age obsessed with health, and in which decent quality food is widely available at affordable prices. but i just can’t get a decent loaf of bread anywhere in america for less than $5.

mmm. hovis. you don't know what you got 'til it's gone.

next time i go to london, i’m just going to fill an enormous suitcase with hovis and sell it round the corner from the farmer’s market.

3. blu-tack

ok, i know blu-tack itself has now been improved as white tack, and presumably clear tack is just around the corner too. maybe in the future, all kinds of tack will be unnecessary. for the moment, there are few better ways to attach a piece of paper to the wall.

sorry berno. i am not buck rogers. this is very common on my planet.

actually i just looked it up, and you can get blue tack in the USA, on mail order, so the global community is gradually working to bring it here. presumably some slips in from Canada too, where it is called Zorkai. maybe also from Iceland, where it is known as “kennaratyggjo”, which means teachers chewing gum. but when i showed it to the otherwise worldly Berno of jumptank recently, he looked at me as if i was Buck Rogers.

4. signs

i know i rant about this far too much already. i will keep it brief this time. but we all know that going through security or immigration in the USA is one of the most painful experiences the world has to offer. there is always, without fail, an incredibly uptight guy who will tell you as if he’s already said it 100 times to you that you have put your belt/shoes/laptop in the wrong place. but in fact they haven’t told you before. and you’re not an idiot (or a terrorist.) there just aren’t any signs telling you want to do.

a rare sign spotted in america. explained through different speeds of horse riding. baffling.

it doesn’t matter whether you’re queueing for security, or queueing for a salad, in this country, no-one will tell you what to do at the last moment, and then they will be incredibly frustrated with you when you do it wrong. in london, germany, sweden and japan they solved this many years ago. put up some signs.

5. red traffic lights

this is maybe just a new york problem. i will no doubt find out soon when i go driving around shortly in far flung places like philadelphia and the catskills. but in new york, red lights are meaningless.

this sounds ridiculous of course. traffic lights are one of the iconic sights of new york. and they are everywhere, in huge quantities. but everywhere else in the world, they serve the function of making it clear when you can and can’t drive. basic rule – red means stop.

does this mean stop? or go? does it depend if you are turning right?

not in new york. i find myself constantly having cars nudging towards me as i cross the road, even when i have a light telling me to cross. is it ok to turn right on a red light? the truth is, NO-ONE KNOWS

sorry for the long break for any regular readers i have. i must have a few, because i recently celebrated 1,000 hits. thanks all. truth be told, at least a couple of hundred of them seem to be weird phantom hits from strange destinations. but thanks anyway.


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business travel, baboons and the world cup final

being massaged by a chair is a good way to prepare for a long flight, it turns out

welcome to my watchpeoplejump world cup final special, in which you will find out a lot less about the atmosphere in south africa before the world cup final than you want, and hear a lot more about the minutiae of business travel than you can have possibly desired.

starting with this – did you know that you can get a really rather good massage from a chair nowadays? thanks to the chairs in the swiss air business lounge, i prepared for my 15 hour flight with a thoroughly relaxed spine.

this is great as well, because the one problem with massage is the moment of personal awkwardness. i think it is time to design a machine that takes away that terrible moment when i have to try to describe my ideal salad to the very impatient salad tossers of new york.

anyway…i am generally an advocate of avoiding paying the 1000% premium attached to business class travel. but you can’t argue with the legroom.


however, all of this lovely legroom, and indeed the ability to turn a chair into a bed, is pretty useless if you can’t sleep. and unfortunately i ended up sitting next to a rather corpulent software engineer who whilst a lovely man in many respects had the most irritating snore in the world. it wasn’t just that it was loud, it was also highly unrhythmical, preventing me from convincing myself that it was as soothing as the roar of the ocean waves, for example.

from there to a series of minibus journeys. unremarkable apart from the fact that throughout i was sitting immediately behind CAMEROON LEGEND ROGER MILLA!!!! i know I am going to be accused of this not being real, but it is. but i’m english and i can’t bring myself to take photos of celebrities. so here is a photo i took of the south african landscape whilst sitting next to roger milla.

this photo was taken when i was literally one foot away from cameroon legend roger milla, but i couldn't bring myself to take a photo of him...

and here is roger milla if you don’t know who he is, doing what he is most famous for. most of the time he was with me, he was conducting telephone interviews with british newspapers. if you want to know anything about roger milla’s opinion about anything trivial relating to football, you know where to come.

since that point, i have been mainly in sun city, truly one of the strangest places in the world. it looks like it should have been built in the victorian era, and probably in india – until you get close up to the statues and pillars and realise that they are mainly plastic mouldings, and therefore could not have been built any time other than the 1970s.

sun city. much odder than this photo makes it look.

when you walk around the gardens of sun city, you wonder whether you should. there are many many signs gently discouraging you from doing so, or at least warning you to be on your guard. this is not because of the aviary, or the waterfalls, or the pvc elephants, or even the segway safari. it is because of the baboons. i haven’t seen one yet. but my co-traveller ivan claims they ripped his door off the hinges, ate all of his chocolate, and then put on his pyjamas and went to sleep (ok i made the last one up)

this is a very athletic pose to strike to feed a monkey, in my opinion

just when you thought it was safe to go in the garden

anyway, that’s nearly it for now. next time maybe i will tell you something about football, i kind of doubt it. one final note – sun city has been described as the las vegas of africa. i haven’t been to vegas, but i assume it isn’t that much like southend on sea. sun city is very like southend on sea.

and roulette is a stupid, stupid game. this guy was great though. i think he was gambling on almost every number every time. a perfect microcosm of futility. the house always wins.

no, no, i've got a system...

thanks, and as i say, next time i might tell you something about football. no promises though.


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10 ways in which london is better than new york

1. you are allowed to drink outside. in the park. on the street corner. this is one of the things that makes life worth living

2. the big bin is for recycling

3. the availability of actual real news. including a series of videos demonstrating the world’s most important events. this is literally unavailable on new york tv

4. clear, well organised signage, particularly on all forms of transport

5. a riverside that acts as the cultural and social heart of the city, not as a peripheral wasteland in which to distribute helipads and sports centres

better than a helipad

6. self-deprecation, and the instinct to apologise rather than to sue

7. children are encouraged to share, rather than to ruthlessly defend their own property

8. the taxi drivers know where they are going

9. the tiny park near your work where you sometimes eat your sandwich would probably constitute the second great park of manhattan

10. because living in london sometimes feels like living in ten different eras of history all at the same time

immemorial churches in the shadows of glass and chrome skyscrapers. mmm, london.


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10 ways in which new york is better than london

1. children are actively encouraged to draw colourful chalk graffiti on the pavements everywhere

sidewalk chalk - it looks nice and it washes away

2. the online buying/home delivery service for almost everything is seamless and pain free, as it should be

3. you don’t have to suddenly leave a great night out to suit the caprices of a train timetable, you just might have to wait slightly longer for a train

4. you can have a barbecue in the park without fear of reprisals from park wardens, in fact large areas are set aside for this specific purpose

5. the worst take away food in new york is better than the best on the average london high street

6. it has brooklyn in it (which is much better than manhattan, whatever anyone tells you)

7. stoop culture – sitting on the stoop, stoop sales, being able to pick up random books from other people’s stoops

stoops - a good source of free reading material

8. you always know where you stand with people (immediately)

9. the skyscrapers aren’t just concrete blocks, they are ornate like cathedrals and you keep finding amazing new ones

10. they have worked out how to put air conditioning on the subway


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