Monthly Archives: April 2011

Change is the natural state for the earth – it will never be finished

On Friday I went to Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin. Down House is a stunning property with beautiful gardens and a museum of Darwin’s life.

Apparently Darwin wrote The Origin of the Species here; his controversial masterpiece introducing his theory of evolution rather than the perceived wisdom of the time of divine creation, i.e. that life is designed by some divine power.

“Change is the natural state for the earth – it will never be finished.” Darwin

Darwin did not conceive his theory of evolution by natural selection in a vacuum. He was a collector of ideas, things and theories. He considered and developed his thoughts over a period of time, many of which were inspired and consolidated by his findings on his epic voyage of discovery aboard The H.M.S Beagle’.

Some ideas that fed Darwin’s imagination included;

  • Economic theories of supply and demand
  • The theory that scarcity led to competition between individuals for survival and that war disease and famine prevent over population.
  • Calculations by a number of scholars that the earth was indeed very old. In the 1600s Bishop James Usser calculated from the Bible that the earth was created on 24 October 4004 BC. (Love the specific date of 24 October!)
  • Fossils being proof that other species formerly existed and that they must have either died out or changed significantly.

The Origin of the Species was published 1859, the result of two decades of careful and cautious thought. Darwin delayed making his theory public for nearly 20 years. He knew that his view that life was not designed by a divine power would be controversial. Darwin wanted to have clear thoughts on how to counter arguments and he spent time evidencing his theory in a number of ways.

For example he investigated how plants spread from place to place. He immersed seeds in salt water for long periods to see if they could last the time it took to travel across the ocean and still germinate. He also sought opinions from a range of academic and professional disciplines.

As Darwin predicted, many were passionately opposed to the concept of evolution of the species. Including Emma, his wife who was deeply concerned by Darwin’s lack of religious faith.

My particular favourite opposition to the theory of evolution is based on the watchmaker argument. The watchmaker argument is that if you found something as complex as a watch lying on a path you would assume that someone had designed it. Therefore complex living things must have been designed. Brilliant.

I would place Darwin in the innovators of all time category for several reasons.

1. He had a sense of natural curiosity and bravely asked “why?”  – to challenge fundamental beliefs on creation itself.

2. He was a collector of things, theories and ideas. He wasn’t a lone genius, it was the combination of these ideas that inspired his first thoughts of the theory of evolution.

3. He was brave, even though it took him 20 years to share his thoughts and findings.

4. He was inspired by Rev John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861) who was a professor of Botany at Cambridge. Henslow advised his students to go out and ‘observe for themselves’.

5. He found a subject for which he had a passion and natural aptitude.

6. He remained focussed and continued to experiment to prove his theories after Origin of the Species was published.

Darwin described life as a constant struggle for survival. More creatures are born than the worlds resources can sustain. Any individual with an advantage over its fellows would be more likely to endure long enough to reproduce and pass on advantages to the next generation. Brutally described; those who did not adapt to circumstance will perish. Life is survival of the fittest.

So if we apply Darwin’s theory to business evolution.  Business is then also survival of the fittest. Those companies that cannot adapt to circumstance will perish. That’s why if companies are going to be successful, and survive they have to be innovative. They must be able to change to be better than their competitors and adapt to the needs of the customer and the marketplace environment in which they live.

Ask yourself – Are you adapting to survive in your environment?

If you are interested in this you may also like

Origin of the Species – Charles Darwin

The Element – Sir Ken Robinson

Where Do Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson 

Stop caring what the other kids think

Last week I happened upon the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. To be honest it’s more like a museum of nostalgia as the core audience seems to be thirtysomethings peering at their old toys in glass cases.

There were some children there too, playing at being giant vegetables in the Food Glorious Food exhibition and acting out their own Punch and Judy stories with the help of Mr and Mrs Punch puppets.

Continue reading

You can help. Even if you just do one thing.

Two billion cups of coffee are drunk every day. I for my small part contribute to that total. Coffee has become a staple part of my existence, dare I say an addiction that I now rely on to kick-start my brain and body into action.

Ethiopia is the largest producer of coffee in Africa. 15 million people depend on coffee for survival in Ethiopia. It represents 67% of their export revenue.

The problem is that the Ethiopian coffee farmers don’t get paid enough by the West to survive.

Last week I watched Black Gold which is a film about Tadesse Mesekla who is the General Manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union. Tadesses’ job is to negotiate with coffee buyers so that they pay his farmers a better price than that currently set by the international commodities exchange.

In 1989 the International Coffee Agreement, which was responsible for regulating coffee trade prices collapsed. Since then coffee trade has not been regulated. Today the market is dominated by 4 multi national companies, Kraft, Nestle, Proctor and Gamble and Sarah Lee.

  • A cup of coffee in western countries costs approx US$2.90.
  • A kilo of coffee produces 80 cups.
  • The Ethiopian farmers receive US$0.24 per kilo.

You don’t have to be a maths genius to spot that the west are massively exploiting the Ethiopian coffee farmers.

Since 1990 the coffee retail market has increased from US$30 billion to US$80 billion, yet the farmers do not see any of this income.

Tadesee is negotiating so that the coffee farmers can make enough from their coffee to enable them to live; to eat, to have clean water, to buy clothes and send their children to school. As Tadesee puts it, “not for motorbikes”. This isn’t for luxuries but for the essentials that many of us are privileged enough to take for granted. An increase, for example to just US$0.50 per kilo would change the Ethiopian coffee farmers lives beyond recognition.

The sad truth is that Ethiopian farmers cannot survive on what they are currently paid for their coffee crops. Many are now growing chat instead of coffee. Chat is a mild narcotic plant banned in the US and most of Europe. It has a greater market value that will enable the farmers to afford to eat and have clean water. It’s a question of survival.

The Ethiopian coffee farmers should be paid a fair price for their coffee. The west should not be exploiting them. You can help. Even if you just do one thing and only buy Fairtrade coffee products.

Learn more and watch the movie. www.blackgoldmovie.com or check out the following websites.

Cafe Direct

Fairtrade Foundation

Global Exchange

Clipper

 

 

My Groupon story…….”But they still whip up an amazing fish curry”

From half price pedicures to cheap jive lessons to exclusive restaurant deals, Groupon offers you daily deals in your local area. The deal only activates if enough people sign up, encouraging customers to promote the deals and the collective buying power guarantees the merchant a minimum amount of business. Groupon keeps half the money and the merchant gets the rest.

Groupon has been applauded for making this innovative business model work. On the face of it, it sounds like a win-win arrangement. The customer gets cheap stuff and the merchant gets increased sales and profile of their product.

However scratch under the surface and Groupon doesnt always provide the best experience for the consumer or the merchant.

Let me tell you my Groupon story….

My friend bought some Groupon vouchers for a fish pedicure as a Christmas present at Pasha Clinic in London. After a month of phoning an engaged line and sending regular emails into the ether in an attempt to redeem the vouchers before they expired, my friend was getting somewhat agitated.

The customer service team at Groupon who claim on the website that “Nothing is more important to us than treating our customers well.” Suggested she just keep trying.

Eventually, after six weeks she got through and had a rather heated conversation with Pasha Clinic who didn’t have any weekend availability before the voucher ran out. They did offer up a weekday lunchtime. Although she then added that if we had paid full price they could have found us an appointment. My friend ended up putting the phone down on the less than satisfactory response from Pasha Clinic. Then she received this email. I kid you not.

“you are extremely rude. i cancelled your name from our system.  you failed to provide proper details of your voucher and still blaming us on being late. You should be saying sorry for taking our time with your incopitance to provide basic voucher detail. you have no telephone manner at all.  it is sad that you live in the most civilised country but have no idea about being civilised.
you bougth a £9 worth treatment and vaiting to be treated like a queen. looser. now forward my mail to geoupon  so make sure you dont come back.”

Priceless.

Groupon were very apologetic about the above email and have given my friend Groupon credit for the vouchers. Presumably so she can waste another six weeks of her life chasing another great value deal. Bet she can’t wait.

I’ve got several points to make,

1. Firstly the customer service of Pasha Clinic is so terrible it’s practically comedy. Pasha Clinic I wont ever use you – even though your website looks quite good.

2. I’m sure that Pasha Clinic are not the only company to have been inundated by customers. (I understand that one coffee shop in Portland  was swamped with a stampede of over 1000 customers on the first day.) However, Groupon officials state that ‘deal’ subscriptions should be capped in advance to a reasonable number to deal with this situation.

3. Companies need to consider carefully what a Groupon deal means to their business; can they cope with the increased business, are the terms and conditions on the deal right, are they sure they are not actually driving themselves into bankruptcy?

4. However much of a mess merchants get themselves into there is no excuse for poor customer service and the above email.

5. The weather is getting warmer and my trotters are not up to scratch. And you know how important good trotters are to a lady.

I’d love to know if you have had a good or bad Groupon experience.

If you are interested in the Groupon phenomenon, Bob Phibbs the retail doctor has quite a lot to say on the matter too.

P.S. And while we are on the subject, Groupon recently made an ‘interesting’ Superbowl advert in which actor Timothy Hutton begins by making a plea for the people of Tibet before delivering the punch line: “But they still whip up an amazing fish curry” Groupon have apologized and the ad has been withdrawn but you can watch it here.