Experience never gets old – a lesson from Hollywood?

20150929060100!The_Intern_PosterI have been spending far more time than is healthy thinking about the tag- line to the new De Niro film, The Intern. “Experience never gets old”.

What on earth does it mean?

The Experience thing I get. In the film De Niro is a 70-year old returning to work as an intern – no doubt with hilarious consequences. (I haven’t seen the film, I have no idea.) He has lots of experience. You could replace the E-word with Wisdom maybe, or Maturity – although the idea that Maturity never gets old sounds even weirder.

It’s the old bit I don’t get. What does it mean? Experience is never out of date – demonstrably wrong: my experience of using fax machines in the 1990s is pretty old hat these days. Experience never goes stale – ditto.  Experience never ages – still meaningless.  I have a feeling that the subtext here is: it’s OK to be old and still go to work – look old people have things to offer too! I have changed my mind three times in the last ten minutes trying to decide whether – if that is the message – it’s a patronising or a positive one. But it only works if  the very notion of being old is undesirable – as if what they were really trying to say was Experience never has a senior moment and forgets where it put the scissors but they knew that just didn’t sound right.

“It’s only the poster for a Hollywood film” I hear you cry. “Lighten up.”

But a) in Hollywood terms I’m as old as the hills and extremely sensitive to implied ageism; and b) I’m a copywriter.  Words matter. Also, because I’m a copywriter, I know that every syllable of every word on that poster has been carefully thought about and focus-grouped by a crack team of writers, publicists and designers – none of this stuff happens by accident, or because that was just the best they could come up with before the print deadline.

So, Experience never gets old means something to someone.  But what?

Could your job be done by a robot?

march of the makers
March of the Makers

If I ever put it together, the unexpurgated version of my CV  would include 28 jobs, shared between permanent employers and freelance clients. It would cover sectors from government to relationship therapy, television to accountancy. So I felt smugly ahead of the curve when I read about the futurologist advising schools that they need to prepare pupils for a world in which they may be working until they’re 100 and will need skills to build a portfolio career.

But look at the kinds of careers he has in mind:

“You might be driving Uber part of the day, renting out your spare bedroom on Airbnb a little bit, renting out space in your closet as storage for Amazon, doing delivery for Amazon or housing the drone that does delivery for Amazon.

“There are all these sort of new sharing economy models coming through,” he said. “We need to start thinking about these things, we need to start thinking about the kinds of skills we’ll need to help people stay employable.

You’ll have noticed that none of these things are careers, in the old-fashioned sense:

  an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework

They’re just ways to pay for food – and he’s assuming that we will all have houses with rooms to let, cars to use for our part-time parcel delivery/cab driving and are willing to support Amazon as it takes over the world.

So, could your job be done by a robot?

Want a life that’s more than being a part-time warehouseman for Jeff Bezos? Might be worth thinking about the kinds of jobs that can’t be done by machines. Our futurologist is gloomy on this one:

between 30% and 80% of all the jobs that exist currently will disappear in the next 10 to 20 years, as businesses increasingly invest in automation… On the one hand, we’ll be living longer. On the other hand, we’re not sure how people are going to earn the money to buy the goods and services that will largely be produced by smart software and robots,”

If this is a guide there aren’t many jobs safe from the advance of automation. Follow the link and see what your future holds: I came back with a 17.5% chance of seeing my livelihood taken over by a machine – odds I think I can live with.  If you need more security than that, it may be time to re-train as a mental health social worker (0.3% chance), or scramble up the corporate ladder while it’s still there and become a Chief Executive (1.5% chance).  Who (or what) you will be Chief Executive of, though, is open to debate.

The joy of making yourself surplus to requirements

butterflies_1200pxWhat an unexpectedly brilliant start to the day.

A 10am meeting with Genny, the social entrepreneur I’ve been mentoring via UnLtd since earlier this year.  And it looks like being the last one we’ll need – although we’ll get together for a drink and a catch up around Christmas to make sure everything’s still on track.  She’s now got a business plan, a real idea of who her customers are, and an understanding of what they need from her.  She knows what she’s offering and she’s costed what it will take to deliver it.  And she’s got enough new customers to be contemplating possibly taking on staff in the near-ish future.

This is of course not all my doing – although she is gratifyingly eager to give me the credit.  She’s done all the hard work and all the difficult thinking .  What I did was provide an objective  point of view and space for her to talk about what she wants to do.    And it feels absolutely brilliant that she’s got so far that she really doesn’t need me any more.

University open days – five essential things to remember

I was bemused that The Guardian published its guide to university open days today.  Aren’t most of them over?  We’ve spent the summer trailing from hall of residence to library  to lecture theatre up and down the country.  I’m quite good at it now – so here, in no particular order, are things to remember when it’s my son’s turn:

  1.  The course your child wants to study is crucial.  But if he or she has researched this properly (and this is something only they can do)  you will only visit places offering courses they’re happy with. This makes everything else about the university really important.  Final choices are likely to be  made on things as seemingly inconsequential as the width of the corridors in the accommodation blocks.
  2. You need to know what you’re looking for before you go. Think about what’s really important to you before you arrive and cast a beady eye over those particular aspects of the university: Course content and teaching?  Nightlife? Proximity to home? Quality/cost of accommodation? Whatever it is, you need to know you’re choosing somewhere that delivers what you want.
  3. Attention parents!  It’s not our choice.  It’s not our future or our debt.  It’s theirs.  You are a sounding board for their impressions, you shouldn’t try to impose your own.  (It will be to no-one’s surprise that I didn’t always manage this.)
  4. It’s worth visiting the town as well as mooching round the student union.  If your child is used to the rattle and hum of a big city, will they be happy to move to a small, provincial town?  A friend of my niece’s is applying to the university closest to her home so she can visit her family as often as possible (hmm).  My daughter refuses to think about anywhere in London because she wants something different and can’t think of anything worse than living at home (I completely understand and am buttoning my lip about the fact that she’s discounting some of the best colleges in the world.  Note to self, see 3 above and read repeatedly).
  5. Make notes, take photos.  Universities are surprisingly similar. After a while they blur into one.  Oh, and wear comfortable shoes and take bottles of water.  You are going to be walking a LONG way.

The challenge for university communications departments

All five of the universities we’ve visited offer great courses and opportunities to study abroad.  They all have active student unions with more scope to sing/dance/play sport/climb mountains/be political or play tiddlywinks than one person could realistically fit into a lifetime.  They have broadly similar accommodation, costing roughly the same amount per week. What they offered was, frankly, much of a muchness.  Small differences in presentation take on huge significance when that’s what separates one from another.   A cry of “this website is RUBBISH” from my daughter, meant that the university in question had some catching-up to do when we got there.  A good website is essential; apps are de rigueur; maps need to be helpful to people with no sense of direction (ahem).

Enjoy it

More than anything else it’s been a joy to spend uninterrupted time with my daughter and realise again what good company she is.  Some of her friends started their university careers this week.  I’m both looking forward to and dreading her making the move next year.  But at least now I know that, wherever she goes, we’ve researched the hell out of the kitchen arrangements.

Picking your fights: why Jeremy Corbyn needs better PR

Whether or not Jeremy Corbyn should have sung the national anthem at yesterday’s Battle of Britain remembrance service, by keeping quiet he has handed his opponents a massive stick with which to beat him.  Today’s coverage in the papers is dominated by accusations of disloyalty – something Corbyn’s supporters on twitter have picked up somewhat self-righteously.

Well, yes, they certainly should be talking about other things:

But JC has given them the perfect opportunity not to bother with that but to make hay elsewhere.  He needs, he desperately needs, someone competent to be running his comms operation.  The slurs, the innuendo and the self-inflicted wounds will stick to him right through his leadership (which currently looks as though it will be nasty, brutish and very, very short).

There’s a difference between the soulless spin of machine politics and a principled attempt to get your message out clearly to people who need to hear it. Corbyn is now – unfairly but probably indelibly – fixed in the public’s eye as a loony lefty who hates the Queen and won’t even do his top button up to support our most iconic national heroes.   Early images stick – ask William Hague, whose leadership  never shook off the Tory-boy images of himself in a baseball cap riding the log flumes at Alton Towers; or Ed Miliband still fighting the “brother-betrayer/ back-stabber” slurs five years after his own leadership win.

JC can hold the high moral ground of unspun purity, or he can sink beneath the waves.  William Hague has written a column for today’s Telegraph about the perils Corbyn faces. It’s headed There are countless sworn assassins waiting to knife Jeremy Corbyn in the back , there certainly are.  And at the moment he’s playing right into their hands.

101 words of advice – embracing change

the story of nature itself, ever-inventive, making one thing out of another and one thing into another, and nothing lasts and nothing’s lost, and nothing ever perishes, and things can always change, because things will always change, and things will always be different, because things can always be different.

Ali Smith in Girl Meets Boy, a joyful, rushing roar of a book, which was hugely comforting at 3.15am, in the midst of a sleepless night.  Read it. It’s wonderful.

(Actually that was 80 words but who’s counting? The book is a hymn to the power of evading expectations.  Now it’s 101)


Gunning for the BBC?


Has the public consultation to find out how the public feels about the BBC been  designed  so that the fewest people possible will respond to it?

The consultation is embedded in an 88-page document  with a two-page glossary of terms – (you can go straight to the questions online, if you prefer).  I imagine it’s pretty impenetrable to anyone not familiar with the  jargon of the broadcasting industry.  I worked at the BBC for five years and Channel 4 for three and I found it pretty hard going.  I suspect that many people who want to express their views on whether the BBC should or shouldn’t be doing Strictly, or how much they would be prepared to pay (or not) for Radio 4 will look, perplexed, at some of the questions they’re being asked and give up and do something else instead:

1   How can the BBC’s public purposes be improved so there is more clarity about what the BBC should achieve?

2   Which elements of universality are most important for the BBC?

3   Should Charter Review formally establish a set of values for the BBC?

10  How should the system of content production be improved through reform of quotas or more radical options?

14  How should the BBC’s commercial operations, including BBC Worldwide, be reformed?

15  How should the current model of governance and regulation for the BBC be reformed?

16  How should Public Value Tests and Service Licences be reformed and who should have the responsibility for making these decisions?

18  How should the relationship between Parliament, Government, Ofcom, the National Audit Office and the BBC work?  What accountability structures and expectations, including financial transparency and spending controls, should apply?

19 Should the existing approach of a 10-year Royal Charter and Framework Agreement continue?

I put some random sections of the consultation document through the Gunning Fog  index.   GF is an academic  tool which measures the readability of a piece of writing.  The people at GF estimate that:

Texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12. Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8.

As a rough rule of thumb I assume that the index relates to the years of formal education a reader will need to have had in order to understand something, so a piece of text with an index of 12 should be clear to an A-level student.  The sections I analysed came back with an average GF index of 14.8, one section came in at 15.5.  Either DCMS doesn’t know, or doesn’t care that the public consultation about the single most important cultural institution in the country may only be understood by people with a degree-level education who  know what accountability structures are.

I have additional worries about what will happen to the consultation documents when they are submitted.  Will they be read (not a flippant question – I have sat in Whitehall meeting rooms with piles of unread consultation documents in a corner because no-one had the time to read them all). Who is going to analyse responses which will come in in the form of several thousand online free text boxes as well as via email and in the post: what kind of common measurement standards will they apply?  And let’s not even mention the hanging jury which seems to have been assembled to assess the Beeb’s future options.  For the time being let’s just concentrate on getting the public’s voices heard.

The Save Our BBC campaign has written to Culture Secretary John Whittingdale asking him to make sure that a Plain English Crystal Marked version of the document be produced.   You could do the same,  or you could write with your general feelings about the BBC (good or bad, just have your say), and you could  copy the letter to your MP (find him/her at They Work for You). Ask them to do whatever they can to make sure that the BBC gets a fair crack of this particularly dangerous whip.