November 2010

The Big Society message is getting through, it seems. While our local authorities are personfully staffing the lorries and gritting the roads, we are making our own contribution to a decidedly cool snap and gritting our own teeth. Happiness is all the rage, of course, as we’ve already covered recently, although the latest press release from CIPD does leave me in a slight quandary as to whether it’s the reality of happiness we’re currently focusing on or the abstract concept. But it does seem that we’ve been displaying true British Grit over the period of the most recent survey:

[…] job satisfaction – which is calculated in the survey by subtracting the percentage of employees satisfied from the percentage dissatisfied – has climbed across sectors to a net score of +42 from +35 for the previous quarter.”


Clark Gable, Franz Ferdinand, Charlie Chaplin, Friedrich Nietzsche, Salvador Dali, Albert Einstein and Hulk Hogan.

What do all of these great men have in common?

If you haven’t guessed yet (shame on you), it’s that all of these individuals sport – or sported – fantastic moustaches. And in support of Movember,  so have a number of our staff.


It might be one of those ‘my, how the times change’ moments, but I was leafing through one of the dustier piles of old CDs at home recently. Stumbling across a copy of Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True and glancing at the cover, I was reminded that the production credit went to “Nick Lowe for Keepitasahobby Productions”. Very droll, of course, and in keeping with the anti-glossy, ‘bang it down on tape and go down the pub’ spirit of the era (1977). But when, apart from a dismissive putdown from an X Factor/Britain’s Got Talent/Oh No It Hasn’t audition panel, when did you last hear that as advice?

Nowadays, most of what I read about hobbies – and admittedly, I don’t often browse the Practical Woodworker/Quilting For Pleasure shelves in WH Smith – is urging me to turn them into a business, or encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit. Googling for a few minutes turned up countless more examples: telling me all about Kitchen Table Entrepreneurship, Pipex telling me that Two million turn their hobby into a business, CV Tips telling me How to Turn Your Hobby into a Job.


The past two weeks have seen a spate of Tory feet being jammed firmly into mouths. I always find it staggering that people in such public positions still manage to underestimate the gravity of what they’re saying. It can’t just be absent mindedness that provokes these remarks, surely. After all, what good is a politician that walks around saying what he actually thinks to reporters? That’s sort of like a sky diver with chronic vertigo, or an astronaut with agoraphobia (fear of large spaces) or a lawyer with a conscience.

Lord Young, a Thatcher cabinet minister and Cameron’s enterprise adviser, was the first to put his foot in the proverbial, telling the Telegraph that voters had “never had it so good” during this “so-called recession”. He went on to describe the loss of 100,000 jobs a year as within the “margin of error” in a 30 million strong job market. To me, having one of Cameron’s senior advisors describe the livelihoods of 100,000 people as a “margin of error” is a bit like going in for a haircut only to discover that the hairdresser is blind and will be using a chainsaw.


No, not a greeting to an Irish popstar. Thanks to my state-sponsored Latin A Level, I know it means ‘Who benefits?’. Up there with ‘Why?’ when it comes to being a good question – and often a closely related question. It’s certainly one that’s made student fees a hot topic whether or not you’re stood near a bonfire in the middle of Whitehall. It’s evoking some heated responses on both sides, but it’s a more complex issue than it appears and one that has interesting implications for other principles when it comes to who pays for whose development.


If you missed it, Mandleson: The Real PM? (which aired on BBC4 last night) will be on iPlayer for a little while, and was a fascinating but perplexing and frustrating watch. That ‘Real PM?’ was a tease at two levels: not just ‘do they mean Prime Minister or Peter Mandleson’ but ‘was that actually ‘the Real Peter Mandleson’. As a campaign mastermind, the man lives with a reputation for mastery of the dark arts of spin: although it amused him, on camera at least, to be called The Prince of Darkness, I was left wondering just how genuinely it’s a source of pleasure. A reputation for masterful stage management has a downside: we will always be left wondering how much of what we are watching is a performance. Not a fake so much as something that has been polished so rigorously we can no longer truly see it, as what we see when we focus on it are reflections of other things. We may have glimpsed his underpants as he changed trousers between meetings, but his soul remained covered at all times. But like many such ‘fly on the wall’ affairs, it was revealing at other levels: Mandleson may not have been our PM, but it was a programme that provoked interesting thoughts on leadership, loyalty, succession planning, adapting to changing circumstances and authenticity. And, of course, of managing a brand or a reputation.


Today we’re going to roll up our trousers and paddle in the ‘digiverse’, as we sample the wonders of the virtual economy. First things first, it’s important that we start on the same page. There are a number of phrases in the online/digital/virtual economy ballpark that often get passed off for one another, whilst being completely distinct concepts. They are:

The internet economy:

Conducting business through markets whose infrastructure is based on the Internet and World-Wide Web.”

The digital economy:

An economy that is based on electronic goods and services produced by an electronic business and traded through electronic commerce.”

The virtual economy:

An emergent economy existing in a virtual persistent world, usually exchanging virtual goods in the context of an Internet game.”

Our focus, for the sake of this post, is on the latter.

Now, just in case you don’t take the virtual economy seriously – after all, who would pay good money for products that don’t actually ‘exist’? – the highest grossing virtual item ever to change hands was an asteroid on Entropia Universe for $635,000 (£395,000). Jon Jacobs, a British ‘virtual entrepreneur’, bought it for $100,000 (£56,200) in 2005, running it as a virtual night club and turning over $125,000 a year in the process. Experts have predicted that virtual goods traded in the US alone could be worth up to $5bn in the next five years, with Asia already around the $5bn mark in December last year and growing all the time.


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