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It Will All Come Out in the Greenwash

19th May 2023

This is a guest post from Cloudfm’s Head of ESG, Katrina Christopoulos. Listen to more of her expert thoughts on sustainability and greenwashing on the Doing The Opposite podcast. 

I like to think of greenwash as a variety of beautiful green fabrics, but once washed not all of them remain green – that’s how you expose the intruders!   

Fundamentally, greenwash is an attempt to make a product or service look sustainable or ethical, when in fact it isn’t and may even be causing harm.   

Having worked more than 15 years in the sustainability field I have seen a lot of it. Earlier in my career it was rarely called out, but now it seems greenwash examples are being shared by the hour!  

This can be a bit of a problem. Personally, I feel there is a line to be drawn between trying to do the right thing but failing and being outright dishonest. Some companies are genuinely trying to create a beautiful green fabric out of a dye that just doesn’t stick, but some are purposefully pulling the green wool over consumers eyes to deceitfully profiteer.  

But when companies and individuals have good intentions, it is important they aren’t afraid to try and fail because that is of course how we learn and, in the end, get it right. But as the exposure of greenwash increases, so too does the fear of being called out for it. Unfortunately, this is leading to what is termed green hushing, where companies are keeping their sustainability initiatives close to their chest for fear of scrutiny. That may stop them from receiving negative press, but it also means that others lose the chance to learn from their mistakes or gain inspiration from their successes. 

That said, there are many instances where greenwash is just out-and-out poor form and really inhibits us as consumers and businesses to do the right thing, so it needs calling out. And unfortunately this is now so prevalent it even has sub-categories to help define the type of greenwash, here are a few examples of the most common types: 

Green labelling

This is where a product is marketed as sustainable/ethical but using misleading images or terms like natural or biodegradable to give the sense of sustainability when in fact it isn’t.   

Take this story from 2020 when it was uncovered that wood logged illegally from protected forests in the Carpathians had been sold on to companies including IKEA which likely used it in children’s furniture. The provenance of the wood had been rubber stamped by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which is supposed to guarantee the timber is ethically sourced. 

So IKEA customers had no idea that the furniture they thought was ethically sourced was in fact a piece of the protected Carpathian forest!   

The FSC is also criticised for its ‘FSC Mix’ label. Consumers see this label on, for example, a pack of tissue paper, and the presence of the FSC logo is easily mistaken as a sign that this paper is sustainably sourced. But if that logo also says ‘mix’ then there can be a lot of non-FSC wood in the product. Personally, I just don’t feel that is made clear enough. It is far from the only example of labelling that requires consumers to read between the lines, which makes it hard for individuals to do the right thing. 


This leads us nicely onto ‘greenshifting’, where companies shift the environmental damage they are causing onto the consumer, effectively blaming them to take the heat off their own responsibilities.  

I am all for focusing on what you can do as an individual to push change, but if a company is providing a service or product it is largely their responsibility to find a more sustainable way to do it.  As consumers we of course need to provide the demand for sustainable items, but the power to change those products is not in the consumer’s hands.  

Let’s take the airline industry as an example. When you book a flight, your airline might ask you to pay a token extra to offset the emissions of your flight.  

Leaving to one side the fact that offsets come with a whole range of greenwash issues that may not even offset the carbon they claim to, the burden of pollution fundamentally should not be passed on to the consumer. We simply shouldn’t ask consumers to pay in order to pollute.  

Even if airline offsets do put money into projects that succeed in sequestering carbon, one thing this programme does not do is reduce the carbon emissions of the flight itself. All they do is put money elsewhere to a project that hopefully sequesters carbon. But unfortunately the odds are it doesn’t.  

The airline industry should be investing in better planes and fuel to actually reduce emissions in its core product. If they do this, then flight costs may well rise. But the consumers taking the flights will naturally end up paying more, thus playing their part in the end. But those consumers should not be to blame for the carbon intensity of a flight. Nor should they be guilted into paying to offset their carbon – this should be built into the cost in the first place. 


This happens when a company will showcase a particularly green product while still producing a host of other damaging products or services which it fails to highlight.   

A good example would be big banks. If you look on their websites they will be trumpeting their net-zero plans and how they are investing in renewables, yet many are still financing fossil fuel projects on the quiet.   

The oil companies themselves are also very verbal about their decarbonization yet one of their most heralded ways to reduce their emissions is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Similar to airline offsets, I feel CCS is not just a distraction but a permit to carry on burning fossil fuels. It is very expensive and ultimately the jury is out in terms of whether it removes anywhere near the amount of carbon it is supposed to. Funds would be better spent in many other, more cost effective, ways to reduce carbon emissions at the pace required. 

These aren’t the only greenwash sub categories, but they are the key ones. And ultimately I want the overall message here to be to ‘read between the lines’: don’t accept the claims at face value and, as a consumer, push companies to change by growing the demand for truly sustainable products.   

Here’s one final thought to leave you with. 

Think of greenwash like you do food labelling. Glossy packets tell you how your product is ‘low in fat’ but hide the vast amount of sugar in the product, which is ultimately bad if not worse for your health. We need to be aware that some things are not as they seem and, just as with our bodies, a little bit of research can help us make the right choice for a healthier planet. 

Hear more from Kat in conversation with Jeff on the Doing The Opposite Podcast.


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10th April 2023


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    The Way You Make Me Feel – Why Traditional Interviews Aren’t Fit For Purpose

    31st March 2023
    International Speaker Jeff Dewing giving a masterclass on recruitment to a group of CEOs in Malta

    This blog first appeared in The Foundation for Human Resources in Malta, where I had the pleasure of delivering a masterclass on this topic to a group of CEOs and HR Directors last week. 

    The world has changed, whether we like it or not – and it’s time for businesses to change with it. 

    It has taken the entry of Millennials and Gen Z into the workforce to show us what we should have already known for years: that the key to recruitment and retention is to ask people what they want from their jobs, not tell them. 

    But at least one old adage remains true: “People join a company, and they leave a boss”. 

    And you don’t have to be a genius to see that there’s been a lot of ‘leaving’ going on of late, as the Great Resignation continues. 

    It’s human nature to join a new business full of optimism and bright ideas about how you’re going to make a difference. How demotivating it must be to come up against a bad line manager. 

    ‘Bad’ is subjective, of course, and what makes a manager the wrong one depends on the person he or she is managing. But it’s clear that anyone who owns a company should make sure their managers are actively helping their teams succeed. 

    And that’s about empowering people. 

    What gets you out of bed?

    In fact, studies at major universities such as Duke, and – as quoted by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – MIT, have shown that empowering your people is much more important than offering them more money.  

    According to Pink, people who are offered a performance-related bonus will only actually do better if the task is purely physical. Once it takes any amount of actual knowledge or brain-power, the promise of a bonus actually makes them perform worse. 

    What really motivates people, Pink says, is autonomy, mastery (defined as the urge to become more skilled at something) and purpose. Not cold, hard cash. 

    It turns out people want to have a say in their future, and a purpose to aim for. And along the way, they want to grow and feel challenged. 

    Pink published Drive in 2009, just after the Great Financial Crash, but this concept remains as true as ever in 2023 – just after the Great Resignation. 

    If it wasn’t clear more than a decade ago, then it definitely is now: the status quo isn’t working. It’s time to think differently. 

    The problem with interviews 

    Where I believe people begin to get retention wrong is that they see it as something that begins after a new employee has settled into their role. 

    To me, it begins the second that an employee meets you for the first time – at their first interview.  

    At Cloudfm, we don’t think traditional interviews are fit for purpose. And that’s why we no longer do them. Instead, our process involves bringing prospective talent into our offices to meet our people, experience a typical work day, and take part in a series of group tasks to gauge whether they’re a good fit for us – and whether we’re a good fit for them. 

    They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and an interview is as much a referendum on the company as it is on the candidate. 

    Instead, making sure you get the right person at the interview stage is what sets you up for an ongoing retention and loyalty process. And the interview process is crucial, because it builds the foundation for the rest of the experience. 

    Culture is key 

    But I don’t want to give you the impression that this is a quick fix to help you retain all of your best talent in a landscape where more people move jobs than ever before.  

    Because there’s really no point doing any of the above without putting in place the culture to back it up. 

    As I said earlier, people want to control or at least influence their destinies more than anything else. They want autonomy in their jobs and purpose in their lives. So your entire culture must rest on empowering your people to have autonomy and freedom 

    And how do you do that? Well, it comes back to those line managers again.  

    I delve into this more in my masterclass, “The Way You Make Me Feel: Recruitment and Retention on Steroids”, but the key here is the distinction between a manager and a coach. 

    Simply put, a manager marks your homework, while a coach helps you get the best grade possible. 

    Ultimately, you want your line managers to be ‘coaches’, not ‘managers’. You want them to empower their teams to do their best work through mentorship, not come in at the end and tell them whether they did a good job or not. 

    Empowering your people

    But as a CEO, I also know that the buck stops with me. Empowering staff is something that needs to happen from the top down. After all, my Heads of Department will only be able to give autonomy, mastery, and purpose to their teams if I’m able to do it for them. 

    And that’s about setting a culture where they themselves feel empowered to be coaches, not managers, and to have the courage to put their teams first. 

    Ultimately, when faced with a big decision, you want every one of your employees to stop thinking ‘but what if i fall’, and instead start saying ‘but what if I fly’. And when that happens, you know your culture is right. 

    The world has changed, but the guiding principles should have been clear all along. As Maya Angelou famously said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    If you’d like to book Jeff as a keynote speaker or to give a masterclass to your business, get in touch on our contact page.


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    Why is failure so important to entrepreneurship?

    7th March 2023
    A road sign indicating the wrong path

    This post celebrates failure.  

    Or rather, it celebrates the rewards of failure. 

    Now, I’ve written about the benefits of ‘failing fast’ before. But after recording my latest podcast with Professor John Mullins, I felt I needed to revisit this topic. Because, believe it or not, failure is an important part of being an entrepreneur. 

    John is Associate Professor of Management Practice in Marketing and Entrepreneurship at London Business School, so he’s pretty well-placed to talk about entrepreneurship. And he does so brilliantly – just listen for yourself or watch the video below! 

    But he’s an entrepreneur, too. He has real-world experience, so to speak, and he has the battle scars to prove it. 

    After leaving his job at US retailer GAP, he launched his own chain of pasta stores in the US. At its height, John had around 12 locations. It was only when the big-name supermarkets started to make their own similar products that his business started to fail. 

    It’s his warts-and-all experience as well as his understanding of the theory of business and marketing that helps John connect with his students in his current world of academia. 

    But as Oscar Wilde said: ‘Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes’. 

    You either win, or you learn

    When standing on that cliff-edge about to make a big business decision, we’re hard-wired to think ‘what if I fall’, not ‘what if I fly’. We’re told to mitigate the negatives, not emphasise the possibilities. 

    And that might have something to do with the word fail – a word we’ve banned from our business. 

    To me, you can never actually ‘fail’. You can either win, or learn. 

    That was effectively the subject of my previous blog post on this topic. That failure can be a source of insight and can tell you exactly what you did wrong. 

    The faster you fail as an entrepreneur, the quicker you learn. And the sooner you learn, the sooner you succeed. Whether that’s applying learnings in your current business or avoiding old mistakes in your next one. 

    John’s new book, ‘Break the Rules!: The Six Counter-Conventional Mindsets of Entrepreneurs That Can Help Anyone Change the World’, shows how entrepreneurs seek out learning opportunities. They resist the risk-averse nature of corporate organisations and figure out new ways to succeed.  

    The Power of Saying Yes

    These days we hear a lot about the power of saying ‘no’. And in the context of mental health, that can be really powerful advice. But sometimes in business we also need to talk about the power of saying ‘yes’ – because that’s what entrepreneurs do time and time again. 

    When new business opportunities arrive, they say yes. It’s only later when they get home do they think ‘wow, how am I going to deliver this?’  

    I’ve always said entrepreneurs bite off more than they can chew, and then they very quickly learn how to chew it. They grasp the opportunity in front of them and then they create a vision for how to succeed. 

    And as John says on the podcast, that’s a mindset that’s rife among successful entrepreneurs – but not among large businesses. As John puts it, corporations will tell you to ‘stick to your knitting’. 

    Now, there’s probably nothing wrong with staying in your lane when you’re a huge global household name measuring turnover in the billions. But if you never try anything new, you’ll never get more than you already have. 

    For entrepreneurs, nothing beats trying it out for yourself. John’s story reminds us that no matter how much you’ve picked up from books, YouTube or even articles like this one, there’s no substitute for experience.  

    Or, as Oscar Wilde would call them, mistakes. 

    Because the real world is where the ‘aha’ moments take place, where you realise that there’s a better way.  

    Failure is the fuel of entrepreneurship: so say yes to new opportunities, chalk up the learning experiences, and reap the rewards of making mistakes. 

    Listen to more of season 3 of my Doing the Opposite: Business Disruptors podcast, as new episodes are released every fortnight. 


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    Businesses are more trusted than governments – but don’t get complacent

    10th February 2023

    The world is becoming harder for everyone to navigate, but as often happens in difficult times, it’s the everyday person who suffers the most.

    The cost of living crisis – with its rising prices, rising inflation, and falling living standards – is set against the backdrop of a deteriorating political culture, while polarising social issues are everywhere on our feeds and screens. 

    So who can the everyday person trust when things seem so out of their control? And why do they seem to trust businesses more than their own governments?

    Recently, global communications firm Edelman released its 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer – the company’s 23rd edition of the annual report that surveys more than 32,000 people across 28 countries.

    This temperature check on public perspectives on everything that’s been going on intrigued me – as a business leader I want to know the real anxieties and emotions of my workforce and beyond… but I quickly found it makes for stark reading.

    Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

    Only 40% of respondents say they think their families will be better off in ten years than they are now (down from 50% last year).

    And if the picture is bleak in the economy, it is darker still when it comes to social issues. Only 20% of people surveyed say they would want to have a co-worker with different opinions from their own. Meanwhile, just 30% would even want to help someone who disagreed with them if they were in need.

    That shows us the extent of the polarisation in our society, but it also reveals that many people are unable to see much hope for the future.

    In my view, a lot of this boils down to trust.

    And in the Edelman Trust Barometer, we see that in almost all areas of the world, trust in business far outweighs trust in government.

    What is trust in business?

    Graph courtesy of Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

    It would be natural here to rhyme off a list of reasons – from the expenses scandal to Partygate and Brexit – to explain why trust in politicians is sinking fast. But it’s important to understand what ‘trust’ actually is.

    I’ve looked at the issue of trust in more detail in an earlier blog post, where I argue that trust isn’t earned, it’s granted.

    In it, I broke down the trust equation, which shows that trust isn’t simply the sum of someone’s credibility and reliability. It’s about weighing up what you already know about that credibility, but then cross-referencing that with the likelihood that this person may be acting in a self-serving way.

    So, the more evidence you have that a person is out for themselves, the less likely they are to be trustworthy.

    And looking at this way, isn’t it obvious why polarisation breeds a lack of trust? Because it’s become normal to think the other side is looking out for number one.

    Is business up to the task?

    Image courtesy of Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

    But then why do businesses score higher than governments in the trust stakes? Shouldn’t businesses score lower if they’re the ones with something to sell?

    The answer is they score higher precisely because they do have something to sell. But that will only continue if businesses don’t fall into the trap that politicians are already failing to get out of.

    It doesn’t take any searing insight to see that public services are crumbling, or that third spaces like youth clubs and libraries have closed. These are firmly in the domain of the government to provide and are highly visible on your local high street.

    Now, after the double whammy of Covid lockdowns and rising inflation, pubs and cafes are shuttering, too.

    Political leaders can tell us they’re leading for the country, but – as I said in my 2023 outlook post in January – we can see for ourselves that difficult economic decisions are being kicked like a can down the road. Presumably, until the next election takes place.

    Businesses are different, brands have something to sell you. But, of course, you already know that. The difference is that they’re explicit about it from the start.

    On the other hand, those brands that firmly state their purpose and the impact they want to have on the world are the ones that score well in the equation. Yes, they want to turn a profit. But if their actions align with their purposes, it makes it much easier to trust them.

    Excuse the cliche, but you have to walk the walk.

    How can businesses do better?

    Don’t get me wrong – businesses and business people aren’t perfect.

    Immoral practices have dented trust in countless sectors and will continue to do so. 

    But what matters is doing things in the right way. Businesses need to remember they are dealing with humans, not robots, and act with compassion.

    In the end, no one cares what you say you’re going to do. They care what you actually do. Purpose is great, but impact is vital.

    We’ve seen what happens when governments act against their word. It’s now up to businesses to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes.

    Read more about the trust equation and how to gauge trustworthiness here.


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    Welcome to my 2023 outlook

    12th January 2023

    What to look out for in business (and society) this year

    I shared my thoughts at the beginning of this year with CEO monthly where this content first appeared.

    It’s no secret that 2023 is going to be a rough ride for most, with the cost of living and soaring energy prices weighing heavily on consumers and businesses alike. We’re additionally going to continue to feel the labour shortage, especially given Keir Starmer’s reversal of the Labour Party’s support of freedom of movement.

    That said, 2023 must be a year of momentum. Trends around flexible and hybrid work will rightfully continue to become normalised. Antiquated business leaders who force people into the office should be consigned to the past.

    This new year will require thinking differently to solve problems. For example, innovations leveraging AR and VR technologies to upskill and reskill employees to combat the labour shortage and integrating gamification in business supply chains to help reach Net Zero.

    Here are some of the key developments to look out for in 2023:

    Cost of living will continue to hurt consumers and businesses

    The immense pressures of the cost of living crisis will continue into 2023 and beyond, wreaking havoc on consumer confidence and spending. The writing is on the wall, inflation was sitting at 12% in October 2022 and is expected to remain well above 10% into 2023. As ever, it’s the everyday people that are under the weight of this financial burden. Consumers have already been adapting, the choice to travel to work is a toss up between commuting fees and energy prices, and spending is only reserved for the bare essentials.

    The most frightening impact, however, is the detrimental effects on mental health. ONS reports that people living in the most deprived 10% of areas in the UK are more than twice as likely to die from suicide as those living in the wealthiest 10% of areas. The reality is this cost of living crisis could claim lives. Therefore, businesses need to put a greater emphasis on supporting and protecting their staff as much as they can, whether that’s offering loans or implementing mental health programmes.

    Big Tech’s decline provides opportunities for the greater tech industry

    Big Tech layoffs actually provide an opportunity for the tech industry. With the big players throwing away top talent, there’s a clear opportunity for them to join innovative start-ups looking beyond the failing ad-based models, albeit with intense competition.

    Layoffs are by no means easy. But what matters is doing the right thing, giving appropriate notice time and severance packages to tide people over until they can find new opportunities. This is something Twitter failed to do, and it will no doubt reduce trust in Big Tech. In November, 50% of Twitter’s workforce was let go and a class-action lawsuit was filed asserting that Twitter violated the law by not providing the required notice.

    Although Big Tech might build back its workforce, it will not so easily recover from its self-inflicted reputational damage, dismissing employees as though they are merely cogs in the wheel. People must be put first regardless and it’s a lesson all businesses can learn from.

    The government’s lack of leadership must be addressed

    For successive governments, we’ve seen leaders not only shirking their responsibilities, but choosing to leave problems to weaken those that come after them. Jeremy Hunt’s November 2022 budget was another example of this, delaying the pain of an austerity package to give the Tories a chance. The budget continues the same theme, whereby rampant inflation and state borrowing are kicked down the road to the next government.

    I have encountered many different types of leaders and leadership approaches. Those that were successful and well-respected all had a willingness and desire to face problems head on and devise solutions, especially difficult ones. The need for effective leadership has never been more apparent, but it remains to be seen whether this government and its budget are up for the task in 2023. 

    Hybrid work demands re-thinking office design

    Over the course of my life, I’ve seen the decline of ‘third places.’ This is defined as any place you go to spend time that isn’t your home (first place) or your workplace (second place). They are a space to meet friends and family, interact with local activities and build a sense of community unity, often without any cost.

    Government cuts have removed many places like youth centres and libraries. The effects on our communities shouldn’t be underestimated. This, combined with the cost of living crisis and aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, is hugely impacting overall employee well-being. It isn’t just a moral issue, as low engagement alone costs the global economy $7.8 trillion. We need to invest in our employees’ wellbeing in 2023 as this influences both their lives outside work and their experiences at work. Office spaces should be designed with emotional wellbeing in mind. For example, be casual and collaborative, with couches, TVs, games etc. Beyond that, offices should be places where employees can make life moments rather than just do what they can do when working from home.

    Read more on how Cloudfm is transforming our offices into a third space for employees and the community.

    Innovation is needed more than ever

    In 2023, we will increasingly need to look to business leaders and innovators to solve pressing problems due to failing politicians’ lack of action. For example, with the world significantly off course to achieving emissions targets due to the absence of effective global political policies. Gamification is a tool which can be widely utilised to address the engagement gap in the fight against climate change. Behavioural Gamification is the process whereby game mechanics are incorporated into everyday activities to motivate behaviour change. Studies indicate that gamification can impact cognitive and behavioural engagement, while being enjoyable. Business leaders should consider how they can implement techniques such as gamification across their business and supply chain to encourage green behaviour and change within.

    The labour shortage is another problem that demands innovation. Some employers are offering greater flexibility, thinking creatively about their recruitment approach, and offering higher wages to attract the talent they want. However, this simply moves the problem around. It’s crucial we upskill and reskill existing employees across industries, ensuring the expertise is readily available. This can be done using augmented reality (AR), a highly visual and interactive method of presenting digitised information in the context of the physical environment that democratises knowledge and information sharing irrespective of physical limitations.

    Overall, it’s important CEOs understand their larger impact on society. Businesses can make a real impact in 2023 by leading where the government lacks, innovating and protecting employees and the environment. To do so businesses need to be agile and open to change.

    Wishing you all the very best for 2023, here’s to positive change and progress!


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    Creating third spaces for employees and the community

    8th November 2022

    “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” 

    Herman Melville

    When I was growing up, it always felt like there was a sense of community everywhere I went. Whether it was seeing your parent’s friends at the local pub, or seeing your mates at the youth centre, you could see the spaces that the community congregated in.

    Sadly, that seems to have fallen by the wayside as digital communities became the new social ground, but the need for a physical community space will always persist.

    That’s why I opened my office to my teams to use as a ‘third space’ for any of their needs.

    There have been quite a few changes in the UK over the course of my lifetime, but one that few people seem to talk about is the death of the ‘third place’. A third place is defined as any place you go to spend time that isn’t your home (first place) or your workplace (second place).

    The idea is that the third place is somewhere you go to socialise and to be part of your community – often these were places like libraries, pubs, cafes, parks, or youth centres – places that required little to no money to attend, and which would become the nexus of the community; acting as a place to meet friends, to interact with local events, and as an important part of building a sense of community unity.

    Sadly, the concept of the third place has died a death of a thousand cuts. Years of austerity and funding cuts have all but removed youth centres and libraries from society, even as many pubs and cafes have begun to lose their connection to the community. When we stop to think about the third spaces that remain, only parks and libraries remain – the latter of which is already in turmoil with the future of library funding existing on a knife edge, the threat of defunding hanging above them like a fiscally-conservative sword of Damocles.

    Stop and think about it for a second – where do you see your community interacting? Do you even see it at all anymore?

    The effects have been profound; although they are not always visibly connected to the death of the third space. However, with a bit of critical thinking, the connection becomes apparent. Have you found yourself wondering “why does politics seem more divisive than it used to be?”; “How could someone become so radicalised online?”; “Why do young people today seem so lost?”

    The answer to all of these questions may well lie with the death of the third space. Political debates in the community were hashed out in the local pub with a wide array of views in the audience – not debated in ‘right only’ or ‘left only’ online echo chambers.

    Similarly, the previous decades have shown that many of those who are inexplicably radicalised online tend to be those who lack a connection to a real-life community. In the absence of a positive community to give a sense of belonging, they are drawn into toxic radical communities that offer a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

    The toxic effects of a lack of community become most apparent when we look at the state of many young people today – particularly those in the cities. Years of government-sanctioned cuts have left youth outreach as the responsibility of local communities – communities which have slowly been dismantled by the lack of public spaces.

    The result is a growing rate of youth reoffending and a dramatic surge in gang membership – gangs which are offering young men the sense of community and belonging that they crave.

    Talking about the decay of community spirit is easy to dismiss as ‘boomer nostalgia nonsense’ – in the same vein as complaints that ‘fish and chips don’t come wrapped in newspaper anymore’ – but the reality is that the loss of community spaces has become a profound and endemic issue throughout the UK.

    We urgently need more third spaces in our communities, and although I can’t provide a solution for the entire country, I can at least help those in my immediate network. Starting a few months ago, I opened my office to every member of every team in my organisation. Accessible at any time of day or night, for whatever reasonable / appropriate purpose they may need it for.

    Since starting this programme, we’ve: had a series of afterparties, provided space for a handful of social functions and even started up a weekend creche! All employees have access to the building 24/7, and are encouraged to use the space as a community hub.

    We’ve had employees bring personal friends along with colleagues for impromptu parties after hours; and on weekends, those employees with children have begun to form a community daycare, taking advantage of the various consoles, activities and games we have in our breakout area.

    The effect on morale has been outstanding. Not only has it brought our teams closer together, it has begun to reinvigorate a sense of community amongst those in the area. We have children who otherwise may never have met one another (despite living in the same community), who are now becoming firm friends. We have various employees introducing their groups of friends to one another at after-hours drinking sessions – we’re bootstrapping our own micro-community, and it has cost us virtually nothing.

    I wish I could be more optimistic about the return of third spaces in our society, but I’m disheartened to report that any profound change to our view of third spaces is unlikely to materialise under the current government, or even under the opposition’s proposed government. The most that we can do as individuals is to try to form our own communities.

    If you – like me – have access to office buildings that you can open to your employees, I implore you to consider following my path, and create a third space for them. The effects on morale and productivity are substantial, and should offer motivation enough, but I would make a more personal appeal.

    This blog is primarily a source of business advice, with clear business-orientated rationales for the things I suggest – but in this one case I’d like to make an impassioned plea. Consider opening up your spaces to grow communities – not because it will help your company (although it will) – but simply because our local communities desperately need it. 

    We urgently need to build new third spaces and provide new communities for those who need them. We may not be able to reinvigorate them across the country, but if someone reading this can help even one young person find a sense of community, then the effort has been worth it, for – in the words of Dorothy Day – “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”


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    Crash Landings and Silver Linings

    5th October 2022

    Mistakes are the portals of discovery”

    James Joyce

    Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant-past… one of my employees cocked up. Badly.

    It was late on a Friday night when – through a series of errors – the young man in question had managed to destroy about £150,000 worth of work. It was almost impressive, truth be told. He had been under-invoicing one of our larger clients and had only just realised that he had charged them far less than he should have been.

    He swiftly went through the full seven stages of grief before reaching acceptance and realising that he’d have to own up to the mistake. Sweating through his shirt, he approached me about the issue and began apologising; offering me his deepest regrets, possible solutions, and – in a roundabout way – asking to keep his job.

    My response? I just paid £150,000 to train one employee how to never make that mistake again, and learned about a dangerous flaw in my business that could have been even more destructive – why would I fire him! I sent him home with strict orders not to think about the problem at all over the weekend, and to come back refreshed and with a positive attitude on Monday morning.

    Whilst this was a problem, the speed at which the young man had owned up to his mistake had stopped it from escalating to a much greater issue. This demonstrates one of the most vital aspects of any work environment: the safety to come forward and admit mistakes without fear of punishment – and to be able to flag issues anywhere in the company without fear of retribution from higher ups.

     This is an example of a concept that has become known as Black Box Thinking.

    Mistakes can be costly – after all, £150,000 is not to be sniffed at – but the way in which we approach failures can determine how much we can gain from failure. By creating an environment in which failure is recognised as a part of doing business, and in which employees can come forward to openly discuss issues without fear of reprisal, you are ensuring that any issues are addressed as soon as possible, minimising damage.

    Moreover, I didn’t see this as a monumental cock-up as some might have done – I saw it as a valuable lesson on how we could improve our practices. If this employee (who was a competent employee) was able to make that mistake, then perhaps it was an operational failure by the company.

    If there is a vulnerability or flaw in your business that allows for catastrophes like this to occur, then it’s not really on the employee in question, it’s on the business. If you leave a vulnerability exposed, it’s inevitable that someone, eventually, will accidentally trigger that vulnerability.

    Black Box Thinking is a mindset that values openness and transparency above fear of addressing a failure. But where does it come from?

    No-one understands Black Box Thinking better than the aviation industry. You might have heard the statistic that you’re more likely to die from lightning than in a plane, but there’s a very good reason for this.

    Aeroplanes are – or rather were – death traps. The idea that we could fly through the sky in the 1920s is both a marvel of human ingenuity, and a testament to our arrogance. In the early years of aviation, crashes were a common part of flying. In 1929 alone there were 51 crashes, which would equate to around about 7,000 crashes in today’s number of flights.

    In 2017 in comparison, there were only 10 fatal airline accidents – a dramatic improvement in anyone’s book. Whilst the improvement in safety was driven by technological updates and carefully planned protocols, both advances were driven by the concept of Black Box Thinking.

    A ‘black box’ is a small, nearly indestructible block of sensors and recorders designed to withstand the destruction of a plane crashing. Its single purpose is to chart and record every action leading up to a disaster. In the tragic event of a crash, the Black Box can be salvaged to learn what events lead up to the incident, providing insight on the altitude, vectoring and even the pilots’ communications.

    Over the decades, the aviation industry has used black boxes to learn from each and every crash, implementing new protocols and technologies to ensure that each incident is never repeated. With each year, the industry became safer and safer, as the industry learnt from mistakes.

    However, the concept known as Black Box Thinking has evolved in tandem with the use of black boxes, but is not as simple as “learning from one’s mistakes”. The term came to be associated with the strict regulations within the aviation industry around whistleblowing and openness.

    Due to the incredible risks of flying and the potential for catastrophic loss of life, there is no tolerance for not announcing issues or ignoring potential failures. Any employee within the industry is expected to immediately speak up if they see anything that might indicate a failure or potential risk. Conversely, employees know that any declaration they make will be free of retribution.

    If an air steward suspects that their pilot may have had a whiskey or two in the pre-flight lounge, or if an engineer suspects that maintenance hasn’t been carried out to the right standard, they are expected to immediately flag the issue – whilst they in turn expect that they will face no reprisal from the captain or lead engineer for doing so.

    If we pause to consider the mistakes that we have made throughout our lives, we would find that many of the subsequent disasters would have been far worse had they been discovered even later. That £150,000 mistake was a blow to my business, sure – but we soon came to realise that had it not been discovered, the same mistake made later in our operations could have cost us millions. That is the value of Black Box Thinking.

    Now, If a company had approached me and told me they could identify and fix a flaw in my business that would eventually cost me £1.5 million, and all it would cost was £150,000? That’s one-tenth of the overall loss – a bargain in anyone’s books.

    Black Box Thinking isn’t just about learning from your mistakes, it’s a mindset shift that encourages you to value openness and transparency, and to disregard blame and repercussions.

    It’s more than putting on a brave face following a disaster, it’s a fundamental shift in perception: a refocusing on what is actually the biggest problem facing your business – the danger of ignoring key issues. If you can achieve this refocusing, I guarantee that you’ll see the positive effects within a few short years.

    £150,000 was probably one of the most expensive lessons that I’ve been taught, but I’m always glad that it was one that my company learnt. It’s not only helped us patch a potential threat to the business, but also helped us change our perspective on failure as a collective. In many ways, it was one of the best things that ever happened to us.

    Saying that – he better not do it ever again!


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    What’s more important than your people?

    13th September 2022

    If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.

    John Cleese

    There has been an assertion, commonly held for many hundreds of years, that great businesses are built by great leaders. This theory – whilst always somewhat unspoken in the feudal era – gained stronger roots during the industrial revolution; a period where vast business empires were seen to be built by titans of industry.

    The reality – often hidden from people behind the veneer of praise for ‘titans of industry’ – is that businesses are not built by leaders, they are built by workers. In fact, I much prefer the saying and principle, ‘people breed people’.

    It may seem counterintuitive, but your goal should not be to create the ‘most successful’ company in your industry, but instead the ‘most desirable to work at’. If you can achieve the latter, the former will follow. So how do I develop my company into the most desirable employer in the sector?

    The answer lies in the way in which you develop your company culture, how you attract new talent – and surprisingly – in a recruitment process involving spaghetti and duct tape.

    Truly exceptional businesses are built with the right workers, in the right position, working in the right environment where they can thrive. It’s a leader’s responsibility to ensure that his or her business is hiring the right people, and utilising them in the right way – this is a challenge, but one that pays off when approached in the right way.

    I believe there are three key elements to consider in this process:

    The Right People

    When deliberating on how to fill a vacancy within a company, the leaders and recruiting managers must ensure that they are hiring the ‘right’ person.

    Do they have the right experience for the role? Do they have the knowledge and skillset required within your firm? Is their personality the right fit?

    The Right Position

    Whilst an applicant can demonstrate all the knowledge and skillsets required to be a valued member of a business, a good leader must also consider whether they are uniquely qualified for the role in question.

    To give an example, pretend for a moment that you are hiring for a data-analysis lead. An applicant may demonstrate exceptional knowledge of the industry, and a near-genius level of skill in crunching data – however, if they demonstrate an inability to manage other team members, they may be suitable for a position with the company, but not this specific management role.

    The Right Environment

    This point is entirely in the hands of the business leaders – for better or for worse.

    Creating a positive workplace environment is a subject which I have discussed extensively in my other blogs and my book, Doing The Opposite, but to give a quick summary: it is vital that workers feel supported and that they have the necessary tools to produce an exceptional standard of work.

    This can be done through a focus on wellness, through flexible and understanding business practices, and by providing a support structure which allows them to develop on successes and bounce back from failures. If you’re interested in learning more, check out some of the other topics on my blog.

    It is also vitalthat prospective employees are enthusiastic about joining your business. To ensure a strong ‘people pipeline’, companies must seek to make their work enjoyable and engaging to their employees. A crucial part of this is ensuring that your prospective applicants are a strong fit for your culture.

    If a business leader can ensure that each of these three key areas are addressed, they will be able to maximise the effectiveness of their workers, allowing them to build a truly exceptional business.

    “But how Jeff?” I hear you say. “What advice can you give me on how I can facilitate this?”

    The recruitment process varies from company to company, but the most common aspect is the interview. Unfortunately for many businesses, that is the beginning and the end of the process. At my company, Cloudfm, we do things a little differently. We commit an entire day to the interview process. And then we make towers out of spaghetti and duct tape.

    Let me explain.

    Our highest priority is ensuring that our potential recruits not only have the industry skills required, but the soft skills, mindset and personality required to mesh with our existing culture.

    After much tinkering, our process now involves breaking applicants into groups, with a handful of current employees joining each team. The teams are required to perform abstract tasks that demonstrate their problem solving, and how well they mesh with our culture.

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