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Pfizer- Allergan Merger Sets a Trend

30 Nov

Amid all the controversy surrounding Irish company Allergan’s proposed takeover of the much bigger Pfizer in a move designed to slash the combined company’s tax bill, a trend is becoming apparent. To find out more, I caught up with Paddy O’Shaughnessy, whose company “O’Shaughnessy’s Used Cars and Small Engine Repair” has just announced its agreement to take over General Motors of Detroit. We met at the proposed new HQ of “O’Shaughnessy International” in the Fiddler’s Elbow pub in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Critics of the deal have leveled the accusation that it is an outrageous scheme to stick it to the US taxpayer, but, over a lunchtime pint of Guinness, O’Shaughnessy vigorously disputed this claim. “Combining the two businesses makes a lot of commercial sense. They’re complimentary, you see. If you turn up at the head office of General Motors in Detroit today looking for a used Ford Transit van, you’re basically out of luck. Same thing with a broken lawn mower. Nobody there can repair it. They’re turning away business. Under the new arrangement, they could bring that lawnmower to us and Seamus will have it fixed within five working days or your money back, provided it’s nothing difficult.”

When I suggested that this was a pretty flimsy pretext for a dodgy deal, O’Shaughnessy became irate and pointed to a man sitting at the end of the bar. “If it’s dodgy deals you’re after, why don’t you go and talk to Michael over there?”

Michael was just about to leave, but he agreed to be interviewed as we walked to his shop in the company of the young lady who had been sitting next to him in the pub. I asked him if he knew what was behind the O’Shaughnessy – General Motors merger. “Sure, it’s obvious. He’s had a thing for Siobhan here for ages. Thinks his multi-billion dollar deal is going to impress her with what a big man he is.”
“And will it?” I asked.
“Fat chance,” he scoffed, opening a door beneath a sign reading “Michael Gallagher Greengrocer, Head Office of Coca Cola, Inc.”

A Comparative Study of the Effectiveness of Different Doughnut Types in Maximizing the Impact of Business Presentations

14 Sep

Readers of The Management Secrets of T. John Dick will be aware of the many benefits of having done so. Foremost among these, of course, is membership in a very exclusive club. Lesser authors might be frustrated by such a relatively small readership, but I judge success by quality, not quantity, and by that criterion my work has been a triumph. Frankly, I wouldn’t want just anybody reading my books, and in this I have been spectacularly successful. I hope you feel special. You certainly should.

But there are other benefits too. The insights and tips contained in The Management Secrets of T. John Dick have been invaluable to readers in managing their business and personal lives. They range from the benefits of applying the latest management principles to your marriage (you’re welcome ladies) to the appropriate way to respond to customers’ promises to set their dogs on you if you ever come near them again. But perhaps the single most important piece of expert advice in a book that is practically bursting its binding with pieces of expert advice is this: if you want to be taken seriously, always be sure to serve doughnuts at your meetings. Well, not you personally of course – have someone set them out on a table before the meeting. This will emphasize your position in the office hierarchy. After all, not everyone has the authority to provide doughnuts at their meetings.

You will understand then why I was intrigued to read this article from the BBC, concerning idiosyncracies of the British workplace. Most of the article deals with the importance of serving tea. Disappointingly there was no mention of doughnuts and I began to wonder how (or if) British business manages to function at all.  Then, amongst all the woolly feelgood nonsense concerning office camaraderie, I cam across this gem:

“A study by biscuit baker, Thomas J Fudges, of 2,000 British workers, revealed one in four would be more likely to close a deal in a meeting because of the biscuits provided, with shortbread, chocolate bourbons and flapjacks all likely to win a favourable reaction.”

This is pretty powerful stuff. It leads me to believe that a comparable study should be carried out on this side of the Atlantic. Several executives of equivalent experience and presentation skills could lead meetings identical in every respect with the exception of the types of doughnuts provided to the attendees. Would an executive with powdered cinnamon doughnuts command more respect than his plain doughnutted rival? Would an executive who served a wide variety of doughnuts be viewed as someone able to see the big picture or simply as  indecisive? Would a presenter who served glazed raspberry filled doughnuts find his audience’s attention distracted by the concentration required to eat said doughnuts without dribbling on their ties? Would he find his own concentration impaired by the sight of raspberry jelly on his listeners’ chins? Perhaps most importantly of all, which variety of doughnuts takes the longest to eat and is consequently most effective in preventing listeners from asking awkward questions?

I’m not sure if the editors of the Harvard Business Review have read The Management Secrets of T. John Dick or follow my blog. Frankly, I’m not sure if they would meet the stringent qualifications I mentioned above. But if they happen to be part of my exclusive readership, then I think the least they could do would be to offer to publish the results of this research, if I ever get around to conducting it. Maybe if I offered them a nice cup of tea and a chocolate bourbon?

The Broadway Hotel Approach to Bad Reviews

21 Nov

It’s a well deserved performance bonus to the management of the Broadway Hotel in Blackpool for their outside the box thinking on dealing with bad reviews on Trip Advisor.

According to the BBC, the small print in their booking form contains the following innovative wording:
“Despite the fact that repeat customers and couples love our hotel, your friends and family may not.
“For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be charged a maximum £100 per review.”

A glance at the hotel’s page at Trip Advisor affords a glimpse of how the hotel is viewed by travelers. ““Fawlty Towers it’s not – at least that looked clean” is one of the less derogatory comments. The words “filthy,” “disgusting” and “hotel inspector” pop out from the page.

Two of these travelers were Tony and Jan Jenkinson, whose forthright description of the hotel began by calling it a “filthy, dirty rotten stinking hovel run by muppets” and concluded with the observation, “If you are offered this place to stay for a fortnight for 10p, you are being robbed!!” Tony and Jan were rewarded for their diligence in warning fellow travelers with an unexpected charge of £100 on their credit card bill, on top of the £36 that their one night stay cost (I think most stays are one night).

Oh, Tony and Jan – why didn’t you read the small print?

Outside the box thinking

When asked about this unusual policy, a tongue-in-cheek John Greenbank, North Trading Standards Area Manager, said it was a “novel” way to prevent bad reviews. But I think Mr. Greenbank has got it all wrong. At £100 per bad review, why on earth would the Broadway Hotel’s owners wish to prevent them? Under this ingenious business plan, the more bad reviews they get, the more their profits soar. This is exactly the kind of outside the box thinking that British business so often lacks. As I write this there are 146 “Terrible” reviews on Trip Advisor. That’s £14,600. That’s not to mention the 24 “Poor” reviews for which, I think we can agree, management would be entirely justified in charging at least eighty quid each.

What’s good for the Broadway, however, is not so good for others. It is a feature of Trip Advisor that, when you select a particular hotel, a new window opens with the title “Similar hotels.” My heart goes out to the Kings Hotel, the By the Beach Hotel and the intriguingly named Sinatra’s Hotel, all of which popped up in this window of shame. Given their generally positive reviews, they do not deserve such ignominy.

My New Review Policy

All of this gives me an idea. Taking a leaf out of the Broadway Hotel’s check-in register, I intend to implement a similar policy to squash unwelcome and unflattering reviews of my books. The following policy will be displayed prominently on this website and printed in the books.

“Despite the fact that my wife quite liked my book and my mother said she supposed it was alright, if you liked that kind of thing, you and other tasteless bozos like you may not like it. For every bad review left on any website the reviewer will be charged a maximum of £100 or $156 per review.”

It is a source of great regret that I can’t think of a way to apply the policy retrospectively to people like “Emily” who started her Amazon review of The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick with disarming frankness by stating, “I hated this book,” and proceeded to give it one star, despite adding that the author was “a strong writer” and it was in fact the main character that she didn’t like. Those are pretty words, Ms. Henlein, but you still gave it one star. That will be $156 please. No, just a minute – you also posted the review to Goodreads and Library Thing. That will be $468 altogether. A check will be fine, thanks. Contact me for my mailing address.

A year or so ago, I told readers about Haziq, the fourteen year old boy in Malaysia who awarded one star to The Management Secrets of T. John Dick at Goodreads. The experience of reading my book appears to have soured him on the whole reading thing, so that one year on, this is still the only book he has ever read. Time to stump up, Haziq, and yes we accept Malaysian ringgits.

Of course, it won’t be as easy to implement this policy as it was for the Broadway. Except for those who purchase from this website, I don’t actually have access to credit card data. However, I am working on an email to Amazon right now. I’m sure they will be interested in this new revenue stream, from which they will demand a hefty cut.

And you can rest assured that, in order to make the most of this exciting new income opportunity, I will be careful to ensure that any books I write in the future will be even worse than those I have produced to date. Are you ready, Emily?

 

A note to anyone completely lacking a sense of humor. First, what a nice surprise to see you here! Second, I am not serious, I will not really charge you for a bad review. I feel it is important to make this clear to you as you belong to the group of readers most likely to leave such a review.

Pumpy the Possum, Max the Moose and the Vampire Squid

5 Sep

Anyone who has read my books will know that I have a soft spot for idiotic advertisements and promotional strategies. In attempts to boost the sales of his company’s pumps, T. John Dick has come up with campaigns centered on photographs of the runner-up in the Miss North Carolina pageant grasping one of those pumps in a suggestive manner, pictures of himself riding a unicorn, and even dropping a pump from the top of the factory building to display its unbreakable quality, seriously damaging the company president’s car with the resultant shrapnel. Most readers’ favorite, though, is Pumpy the Possum, a cartoon strip featuring a possum in superhero garb who solves pump-related problems for a grateful technician called Hydraulic Harry.

Meet Max the Moose

Max the MooseRidiculous? Well, of course, but the strange thing is that Pumpy the Possum was inspired by an actual promotional campaign. It was designed to sell security alarm systems and pinned its hopes for doing so on a cartoon strip starring a moose called Max. Which makes you wonder, “Where do they get these ideas?”

The answer, it seems to me, is by consulting advertising agencies, such as TJ’s cronies at Makem Paimore and Lovett, who have no understanding of the industry and apply cutesy ideas from unrelated, often more consumer-focused fields. The results can be disastrous and damage the brands they are intended to promote.

I was reminded of this the other day, when watching Everton play Chelsea in the English Premier League. At the end of the first half, a little banner appeared next to the score at the top of the screen and the commentator dutifully announced that we were now entering the two minutes of Progressive Insurance stoppage time. Full marks to the TV channel or the Premier League for managing to sell sponsorship for such an unlikely asset, but who at Progressive Insurance made the decision that being associated with these prestigious two minutes would enhance the company’s image? “Progressive Insurance – proud sponsor of those couple of minutes added on to the end of the half for injuries and other stoppages.”

I find this development worrying for another reason. How long will it be before referees come under pressure to add an extra minute or two in order to boost the value of the sponsorship. Match results could be be changed by goals scored in time added on purely to allow us to enjoy the Progressive Insurance logo a little longer. And it won’t stop there. Soon we’ll have the corner kick brought to you by Burger King, the Hamburger Helper Handball and the Pfizer pfenalty.

At least this advertisement’s damage was probably limited to Progressive’s advertising budget. A few minutes into the second half, with an exciting match in full flow, part of the screen was obscured by an advertisement for Microsoft’s Surface tablet. I’m sure that the Surface is a great product, but having the actual playing surface obscured by the word “Surface” while viewers are trying to follow the game, constitutes an own goal, serving only to irritate potential buyers.

Cuddly Vampire Squid

Perhaps the most counter-productive ad of all, however, is one that pops up relentlessly before videos I try to play on the BBC website and elsewhere. For a variety of reasons, Goldman Sachs is one of the most reviled companies on the planet and many people agree with Matt Taibi’s famous 2009 description of the investment bank in Rolling Stone Magazine as a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Given this unsalvageable reputation, surely it would make more sense to eschew attempts at rehabilitation in favor of keeping a low profile. Few people are going to abandon their revulsion towards the “vampire squid” under the influence of a feel good ad purporting to show how, thanks to Goldman Sachs, a company filled with hard-working Americans, some in hard hats, doing real work “makes progress,” such as this one.

I’m not judging whether the content of the ad is technically true. I just wonder whether a company like Goldman Sachs can ever achieve a warm fuzzy feeling amongst the general populace, while still perceived by large sections of that populace to be misleading investors and paying obscene salaries on the back of the taxpayer. For me at least – and I expect that I am not alone – the attempt to recast a vampire squid as a cuddly cuttlefish just seems to be in bad taste. Compared to this, those Pumpy the Possum ads of TJ’s don’t seem so bad after all.

Maybe they could try a cartoon strip with Sid the Vampire Squid.

Are you a T. John Dick?

11 Aug
TJpic2Which character in the T. John Dick books do you most resemble?

Take our fun quiz and find out if you have what it takes to be a top executive who thinks outside the box and focuses on the big picture. Or are you merely mediocre middle management  material? Or a complete loser, fit only for a position in Human Resources? You won’t know until you …

take the quiz

A performance Bonus to The Wu-Tang Clan

21 Apr

A performance bonus and a humanitarian award to the Wu-Tang Clan for the innovative marketing idea behind their new album release. Only one copy of the album will be made, which will be placed in an engraved metal box and buried somewhere in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, before touring art galleries, where admirers will have the chance to pay $20 to $50 to listen to it. It will then be auctioned. Reportedly there is already a bid of $5 million.

While the benefits of there only being one copy of a Wu-Tang Clan album are obvious, second in their contribution to both art and the well-being of society to there being no copies at all, I can’t help feeling that an opportunity is being missed. With $5 million, surely they could afford a box big enough to bury The Wu-Tang Clan too If this sounds expensive, think of the money that could be saved by not returning to dig it up again.

Perhaps they could rent space to Mumford and Sons.

Hats off to the Clan for a marketing gimmick and example of inside the box thinking that might have come from the fevered brain of T John Dick himself.

T. John Dick and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

22 Jan
"T. John Dick - A Case Study of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the American Workplace" (Minimum order 500 copies)

“T. John Dick – A Case Study of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the American Workplace”
(Minimum order 500 copies)

Since they first appeared, my books have been seen by readers and reviewers as an illustration of the famous Peter Principle. This principle, advanced by Laurence J. Peter in his book, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, co-authored with Raymond Hull, holds that people will eventually be promoted to their level of incompetence.

Well, I’m not so sure about that, for two reasons.

Firstly it presupposes a certain level of competence beyond which the manager has been promoted. While the novels do not provide any insight into T. John Dick’s early corporate career (Do I hear calls for a prequel? No? Oh well.), there is little in his character to suggest previous competence.

Secondly, and more importantly, the Peter Principle was outlined in a humorous book. This makes it unsuitable as a basis for the proposal I am about to make.

Before I get to that proposal, let me draw your attention to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Heard of it? If so, that makes you a bit of a smarty-pants. The kind of smarty-pants that reads the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in which David Dunning and Justin Kruger of the Department of Psychology at Cornell University published their research. Or at least someone who knows how to look them up on Wikipedia.

Dunning and Kruger suggested that incompetent people tend to think that they are actually pretty awesome and conversely those with a high level of competence tend to underestimate their level of skill in comparison with others.

They were not the first to realize this. In fact, in their paper, they quoted Charles Darwin : “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Or as Bertrand Russell put it: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Also, this phenomenon is blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever worked in an office. It’s why the blurb on the back of The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick begins, “Nobody has more confidence in the abilities of marketing executive T. John Dick than TJ himself.”

But Dunning and Kruger went further. First of all, they proved it scientifically with a proper experiment and everything. Secondly, they added some additional observations. Let’s take a closer look.

For a given skill, incompetent people will:

1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill
2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others
3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill

Number 4 is quite interesting, in that it suggests that there is sometimes hope for the incompetent. Perhaps something to explore in the next T. John Dick adventure. The first three, on the other hand, are embodied in TJ to such an extent that he might almost be a case study.

"T. John Dick - Another Case Study of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the American Workplace" (You really need this one too)

“T. John Dick – Another Case Study of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the American Workplace”
(Serious students need this one too)

Which leads me to the proposal I mentioned earlier. It seems to me that I have been missing out on the lucrative academic market.*  How many thousands of copies could be sold if prescribed as course material for psychology students? I’m guessing the answer is lots of thousands. So I’m asking all the psychology professors amongst my readership to think about how we might do business. I’m sure we could work out something that would benefit us both, if you get my meaning.

I’m quite open to changing the name of the academic edition to “T. John Dick – A Case Study of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the American Workplace,” or some other eggheaded title of your choice.

You know how to reach me.

* – Not missing out completely. The Management Secrets of T. John Dick has occasionally been purchased by inattentive curators of university business departments – the University of Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, has two copies.

PS: For anyone interested in finding out more about the Dunning-Kruger effect, here’s a link to an interesting article at Ars Technica.

A Performance Bonus for the Happy Hour Virus

25 Nov

A performance bonus, a hearty slap on the back and the key to the executive restroom for the creators of the Happy Hour Virus. Anxious to promote a healthy balance between work and time with family and friends, these out-of-the-box thinkers have come up with a fake virus, which will display the blue screen of death together with ominous looking text indicating that your computer has irretrievably crashed. It goes without saying that our old friend T. John Dick would not approve.

“Sorry, TJ – looks like I’ll have to wait for the IT folks to fix my computer before I can get back to work on that project you’re waiting for. Not much point in hanging around here until it’s fixed.” So it’s off to the pub for a couple of drinks with your friends, thus re-establishing that work-life equilibrium. Cheers!

How to become a “Southern Writer” – it’s easier than you think

6 Sep

One of the most frustrating things about my writing life is the fact that I am not considered a “Southern writer.” Since reviewers in the South are obsessed with the genre, and since the volume, if not the quality, of output of those who cling to it is prodigious, there is little time left in the busy schedule of the shapers of literary taste to consider any other kind of writing. The fault is mine, of course. If you live in the South and write books, they should be “Southern.”

So why aren’t my books “Southern?” They are set in the South. They are even set in a small town in the South. What’s more, they involve an outsider, who has moved to said small town in the South. Unfortunately, those are about all the items I can check on the list of what makes a book “Southern.” There are no mentions at all of the Civil War, nothing about the Bible, and TJ’s wife Grace’s quest for her next margarita hardly qualifies her as a strong woman overcoming adversity. The humor is not specifically southern in that it doesn’t involve rambling yarns about neighbors, relatives or farm animals.

So, it would seem that I have a choice. On the one hand, I can remain true to my calling as a literary giant, addressing the universal themes of the absurdity of corporate life, thereby ensuring the continued neglect of my work by all reviewers within a six hundred mile radius. Alternatively, I can invest in a white linen suit and, having strolled out to the porch with a mint julep and my laptop, proceed to make my hero T. John Dick find religion and punctuate his staff meetings at SuperPumps with homely reminiscences of quirky relatives. “My Uncle Zeke once had the exact same problem with a slump in third quarter sales…” I would be selling my soul, but also a lot more books.

But wait, there is a third way. According to Jerry Leath Mills, writing in Southern Cultures, (Volume 6, Number 4, Winter 2000, published by The University of North Carolina Press), what defines a work of literature as “Southern,” is not a matter of geography, nor state of mind, as claimed by lesser authorities on the subject, who have based their definition on “a variety of intangible qualities, such as a strong sense of place, a concern with history, an interest in religion, a propensity for “gothic” elements of horror and the grotesque, a strongly biblical narrative tradition, a deep sense of loss and defeat, and so on.” These things count, of course, but Mr. Mills argues convincingly that “the single, simple, litmus-like test for the quality of southernness in literature… is: Is there a dead mule in it?”

Mills bases his theory on a survey of around thirty prominent twentieth century southern authors, citing two hundred instances of the presence of one or more specimens of Equus caballus x asinus (defunctus) in the works of writers such as Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy, Clyde Edgerton, Erskine Caldwell and many more. He classifies them by cause of death – beating, freezing, fall from cliff, collision with a train, and even decapitation and hanging. Interestingly, he points out the stark contrast between the dead mule’s ubiquity in Southern literature and the rarity with which real Southerners actually encounter one.

I encourage all serious students of Southern literature to read Mr. Mills’ brilliant essay, and also to read my next book. I haven’t yet decided what it will be about, but it will certainly contain a dead mule or two. And don’t worry – you’re bound to hear about it – it will be widely reviewed.

The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick Superbowl Commercial

3 Feb

In a bold move to kick-start sales of best seller in waiting, “The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick,” publisher Mainland Press will be running a commercial during this evening’s Superbowl. It turns out to be kind of pricey to do this, so they’ve gone for a 3.5 nanosecond spot just after the Axe body spray ad. Don’t miss it!

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