A Collaborative Mind-set

This article was first published on 8 April 2014 in BT Let's Talk

We strive to be effective executives and managers, but what does that mean?

In answering this question, management thinkers have tended to focus on one particular aspect of managing. So Henri Fayol, the “father” of industrial management, says it’s about controlling. Tom Peters emphasises doing – “Don’t think, do” he extolls. Michael Porter prefers to equate managing with analysing. Warren Beavis likes to focus on leading and Herbert Simon on decision making.

Power Shift

This article was first published on 14 January 2014 in the BT Let's Talk GTM Blog.

Remember the nineties, when dot.com hadn’t quite dot.gone? And business gurus were full of inventive ideas about how to capture, retain and grow customers?

One of those ideas was mass customisation. Coined by Joseph Pine in Mass Customisation: The New Frontier in Business Competition (Harvard Business School Press, 1993), the notion looked at managers tailoring their products to meet their customer’s unique needs. Or as some put it – to give customers what they wanted, where they wanted and when they wanted it.

Field force Management

This article was first published on 1 Oct 2013 in the BT Let's Talk GTM Blog

Imagine for a moment how much data flows around any major city, in either a developed country or a developing one.

It’s difficult to estimate a precise figure, but I’ve heard analysts talk about terabytes of data per day per square kilometre in urban areas. Whatever the exact number, it’s an electric soup of information, too much for anyone to digest, too big to analyse in a single breath.

A Look at Customer Experience

This article was first published on 30 May 2012 in the BT Let's Talk GTM Blog

Let’s face it, most organisations can’t afford to hire the smartest people around. So they end up with a few exceptional employees, a percentage that should be doing something else with their lives, and the rest, the majority, sprinkled across the spectrum in between.

Are You Delivering Value to Your Customers?

This article was first published on 15 May 2013 in the BT Let's Talk GTM Blog

There can’t be many businesses in the world that produce year-on-year profits on the one hand but on the other can’t demonstrate what value they offer customers. Well, there are a few, one being the business of funeral direction.

Threat to internet neutrality imperils freedom of choice

This article was first published on 3 Jan 2011 in the print and online edition of The National

Information technology often brings together innovative hobbyists seeking "to do some good".

Over a period of time their labours of love create new industry elements the rest of us consume. The technology migrates from accessible free channels created by entrepreneurs to tightly controlled ones managed by a few corporations for which the pursuit of profit is the driving force.

Quality of life means more than the bottom line ever will

This article was first published on 27 Dec 2010 in the print and online edition of The National 

It's that time of year again, the end of the Gregorian calendar. It's when executives calculate their expected bonuses.

Companies tot up their end-of-year financials and congratulate themselves on how well they have done. And people at a personal level set new year resolutions, such as buying a gym membership, which never gets used more than once or twice in that year.

Deep in the ocean, internet networks hang by a thread

This article first appeared on 20 Dec 2010 in the print and online edition of The National

Anyone who has read of the adventures of Captain Nemo in Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, can only have been left with a sense of wonderment as to the mysteries of the deep. The journey to an incredible underwater forest, a visit to the lost city of Atlantis and a ferocious fight with a giant squid are all memorable sequences in the novel.

It has been 141 years since the book was first published. But despite technological advances in many walks of life, humankind knows little about the oceans. National Geographic estimates we have mapped only 2 or 3 per cent of the seabed.

A moral compass to navigate the corporate ladder

This article was first published  on 13 Dec 2010 in the print and online edition of The National

The road to senior management is littered with landmines concerning business ethics. Well, it is if you speak to academics teaching MBA courses at business schools. It is not if you ask most of the students, who really could not care less.

India can still prove to be a bridge too far for businesses

This article was first published on 22 Nov 2010 in the print and online edition of The National

Sometimes customers are crying out for your products and services but the barriers to serving those customers are just too difficult to overcome, so companies don't bother. 

My parents' home town is one such place. Over the past week I've been travelling in the Indian state of Bihar and specifically its capital city Patna. Some 103 million people live in Bihar, India's third most populous province. 

Thinking big in business – but not losing sight of the personal touch

This article first appeared on 15 Nov 2010 in the print and online edition of The National

One of the pleasures of dealing with a small entrepreneurial business is the energy and enthusiasm that one encounters, particularly from its founders.

The passion on display and the work ethic they maintain is often missing at larger, more staid organisations. Among the challenges faced by small businesses is how to maintain that energy and enthusiasm as they expand in scale, scope, resource and geographic horizons.

Big business needs to be nimble and stay on its toes

This article was first published on 8 Nov 2010 in the print and online edition of The National

It is often said small organisations are more innovative. Yet to bring about significant change, large organisations must also innovate.

The trouble, as the US President Barack Obama found out last week at the American mid-term elections, is if you try to innovate on a large scale people feel threatened.

Apple taste soured by lobby group's worker abuse report

This article was first published on 1 Nov 2010 in the print and online edition of The National

If you are an aficionado of Apple computers, then is this a great time or what?

Loyal customers have witnessed the launch of eye-popping consumer and crossover business products such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Born to be wild, but a little bit of random promotion helps

By Rehan Khan. Published in The National www.thenational.ae on 25th October 2010. You see a middle-aged guy cruising on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle down Jumeirah Beach Road on a weekend and what's your first impression?

You wouldn't be wrong if you thought he was a forty-something successful corporate type. The bike's mythology today belongs to these well-to-do, would-be iconoclasts. Yet this story is forged more by accident than design.

The Harley narrative has been told in countless management journals as a classic business turnaround that goes something like this: the company restored product quality by fixing, among other things, the bike's notoriously leaky engine.

Then they got close to the customer through HOG (Harley Owners Group) days where company executives rode bikes with the customers, and then relayed their findings back to the manufacturing floor to suggest improvements.

Therefore, product quality and customer intimacy saved the day, and since the 1990s the company has consistently outpaced stock market indices.

This is one reason why so many companies have tried to copy the Harley formula for success. Few have succeeded.

The reason, according to Professor Douglas Holt of Oxford University, in his well-researched book How Brands Become Icons, is that the Harley story as it's been told by the company and business journals just doesn't add up.

In fact, the company had very little to do with its market position today. Rather, certain cultural texts (newspapers, films, magazines, articles, political speeches, newsworthy events) built the myth of the Harley and hence its market position.

Post-Second World War, the Harley myth was about the outlaw. War veterans joined city kids to form a countercultural scene centred on biking. The ethos of the motorcycle clubs was a libertarian life, physical domination, manhood, toughness, tribal allegiances and surviving danger as a frontiersman.

Three cultural texts stitched Harley to this outlaw myth. In 1947, Life magazine ran a piece on the damage done to a small town in California by a motorcycle club, where boozed-up bikers rioted and disrupted the town. They were riding Harleys. It sent shock waves through middle-class American society.

Then, the movie The Wild One developed the myth. In it, Marlon Brando leads a hooligan biker gang into a small town. The fathers of the town fight back and send his biker gang packing. Brando rides a Harley*.

And throughout this period, there are stories about the Hells Angels, pillaging small towns in the US. The Angels predominately ride Harleys.

According to Prof Holt, the Harley myth, without any involvement from the company, was then repackaged from the myth of the outlaw to that of the gunfighter. Where the outlaw was undesirable, the gunfighter was necessary to bring toughness to society.

Two cultural texts stitched Harley to the gunfighter. First, in 1969 at Altamont, California, The Rolling Stones played a gig where they hired the Hells Angels to protect them. The Angels parked their choppers between the Stones and the 300,000 fans. The Stones were late, the crowd was restless, a man pulled a gun on an Angel, and the bikers knifed the man to death.

In the media frenzy that followed, the impression given was that the Angels fought the hippies to maintain order. Conservative politicians such as president Richard Nixon felt the hippies symbolised instability (civil rights and peace movements) and so distorted the minds of the young. So the Hells Angels, although violent, were also patriotic and conservative because they were defending the nation's historic values.

The Angels staged counter-demonstrations at anti-war rallies and rallied around the US flag. The Harley-Davidson Motor Company at this time added the stars and stripes to its logo.

Second, the film Easy Rider depicted solo bikers moving through the frontier, which was filled with hippies, drugs and unfamiliar lingo. The film "portrayed bikers as lay philosophers of the frontier", and spoke of how large, city-based institutions stripped men of their masculinity. So Harley's myth was repackaged. It was now a steward of the country's traditional masculinity, the gunfighter.

To bring us up to date, Harley was repackaged from the gunfighter to becoming the icon of the wealthy man of action.

In the 1980s, the US president Ronald Reagan wove a myth around America's historic gunfighter. He routinely evoked Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo character, and John Wayne and others to illustrate his point.

One of Reagan's key allies, Malcolm Forbes of Forbes magazine, and his buddies would routinely fly off to politically sensitive locations such as Afghanistan, ride their Harleys, and then present the local authorities with a gift - a Harley. These Harley riders were championing capitalism and liberty in the face of a socialist, in this case Soviet, threat.

In 1983, Reagan aided Harley-Davidson by imposing a 49.4 per cent tariff against imported heavyweight motorcycles. Previously, it had been 4.4 per cent.

Harley, in Reagan's rhetoric, had been wronged by America's foes (the Japanese) and so the nation had to get behind the company.

But Harley needed to enlist the aid of wealthy men, not the rural, working-class guys. With the help of Mr Forbes they managed it, and in 1987 he and the Harley chief executive Vaughn Beals led a ride of 20 Harleys from the American Stock Exchange to the New York bourse, where a Harley was parked on the trading floor for the day.

Then in 1991, the ultimate action man, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed on as the star in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Much of the film took place on the back of a Harley.

Harley connected men with Reagan's frontier call. Men who could afford it flocked to the bikes, causing one-year waiting lists. The company has not looked back since.

So next time you see a well-to-do guy on a Harley, remember it could easily have been an Indian or a Triumph. Some companies just accidentally end up successful.

* Correction - Brando was riding a Triumph, but some of his gang were on Harley's.

Assimilation of enterprise may leave little to cling on to

By Rehan Khan. Published in The National www.thenational.ae on 18th October 2010. The lore of Star Trek postulates the existence in space of an Alpha quadrant, home to the United Federation of Planets - called simply "the Federation".  There is also, among three others, a Delta quadrant dominated by villainous cybernetic humanoid drones, the Borg, whose raison d'etre is to acquire new species and assimilate them into the Borg collective. Prior to acquisition, the target species are candidly told "resistance is futile".

These two fictional quadrants are an extremely accurate pop-culture metaphor for the telecommunications industry - the Alpha quadrant - and the IT industry - the Delta quadrant.

Now, before you think I may have lost my marbles during teleportation and you set your phasers to "stun", allow me to take you where no columnist has taken you before. My Vulcan-inspired logic to this hypothesis goes something like this:

The telecoms operators, like the federation of planets in the alpha quadrant, have for decades had cordial arrangements with one another to enable the voice and data traffic they carry for their customers to cross over into other operators' networks. Whether these networks are in the domestic (national) sphere or whether they are international, the voice and data will originate at point A and be delivered to point B with 99.99 per cent certainty. This arrangement is referred to as "interconnect" by the telecoms industry and all the operators have specific departments and, in some cases, divisions responsible for dealing with the technical and commercial arrangements to "make it so".

This interconnect arrangement had led to a healthy status quo; as long as customers are being offered the services they want at the right price points and quality there is really no need to change the order of things.

Occasionally, the telecoms operators decide to undertake bouts of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity. It's rare but it does happen, as currently demonstrated by the interest Etisalat is showing in acquiring Zain, and the previous acquisition by Bharti of Zain's assets in Africa. The motivations for one telecoms operator to acquire another are many but from an operational perspective they broadly fall under the following: to create a shared network infrastructure, whether that be for fixed, mobile, broadband or satellite services; the combined entity thus avoids interconnect costs between the respective networks and, more crucially, has access to a wider base of customers on the combined database; this in turn allows marketing to develop specific campaigns for these customers and so on.

The operator may also opt for the formation of a shared services architecture, whereby the core systems such as billing are converged across the combined entity.

Generally, most of this makes sense and is driven by achieving economies of scale and scope. Where the telecoms company executives keep the interests of their employees, customers and then shareholders front and centre, the M&A should succeed in the long term. If, however the M&A is being driven by investment bankers and brokers, who are more interested in talking up the deal to earn a hefty management fee, then it's a bad call to make.

That's the alpha quadrant: relatively stable; a place to work together for the common good.

Let's beam ourselves into the delta quadrant, where giant predatory IT firms such as Oracle and Microsoft routinely acquire and assimilate smaller technology companies in a manner that would make even the Borg blush.

Since its audacious acquisition of PeopleSoft in 2005, Oracle has consumed a further 44 companies including major software application vendors such as Siebel Systems and Hyperion, middleware providers such as BEA Systems and server and storage vendors such as Sun Microsystems. Apparently, Oracle is now considering assimilating semiconductor companies into its collective.

Employees in the acquired entity must put aside their culture and heritage and comply with the Oracle collective, or be asked to leave. There are a number of stories about disgruntled staff and executives put in this situation. Recently, the co-creator of the Java programming language James Gosling made his announcement to leave Sun Microsystems a few months after Oracle acquired it. He did not state his reasons for his resignation on April 2 but cryptically put out the following comment on his blog a week later: "Just about anything I could say [about my reasons] that would be accurate and honest would do more harm than good."

Whether customers actually benefit from having a reduction in choice, particularly when many of the acquired companies would have preferred to have remained standalone enterprises, is highly debatable. What Oracle, like the Borg, has successfully done is to create a homogenous hive, which adds to its technological distinctiveness by assimilating other companies, individuals and technology into a central controlling collective.

Oracle is just one company; others in the IT sector have similarly voracious appetites to acquire and assimilate. At this rate, there won't be many IT service providers for enterprises to choose from. Surely that can't be a good thing for business?

Perhaps even more troubling is that the past few years have seen the two worlds of telecoms and IT, or the people of the Federation and those of the Borg collective, colliding. The entry of Google into the voice market to compete with telecoms operators, or in the UAE the launch by du last week of a social networking portal for the region to take on Facebook, are just two of many skirmishes under way.

Which quadrant will, as Mr Spock would say, "live long and prosper" is up for grabs. But if the lore of Star Trek is anything to go by, hope that engineer Scotty is standing by to "beam you up" when the battle engages and there's enough power left in the dilithium crystals to get us all out of the blast zone in time.

Building innovation may be a foundation for Dubai landlords

By Rehan Khan. Published in The National www.thenational.ae on 11th October 2010. It is estimated that about 30 per cent of all energy used in commercial buildings is wasted, partly as a result of the materials used in construction.

The buildings materials industry is not one that immediately springs to mind when we think about innovation. It may be because the brightest and best brains of the past few generations have been applying their intellect in the worlds of finance and technology. Yet the construction industry is important - the built environment in which we work and live is responsible for 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

One company that is applying new "disruptive technology" to the construction materials industry to reduce emissions is Serious Materials, based in Sunnyvale, California. It is re-engineering common building products that use or lose the most energy. The company is upgrading all 6,500 dual-pane windows in the Empire State Building in New York by reusing the existing glass to create a more efficient material. The process is expected to result in a 38 per cent reduction in energy use and will pay for itself within three years.

This innovative approach to problem solving seemed sorely lacking at last week's Cityscape Global construction sector exhibition held in Dubai. Trying to have an up-beat discussion with the sales representatives on the stands was, for me, analogous to attending a wake for the commercial property sector. There is a tremendous glut of vacant commercial property on the market today in Dubai, with plenty more to come. The question is what can be done about it?

I've heard a number of options. One radical solution doing the rounds is to knock down all of the empty, unwanted or incomplete commercial towers. This way the supply can be tightly controlled. Any developers or investors stuck in such a project could be given compensation by the master developer. Or, more realistically, they could move to a mature commercial area.

There have also been comments about the establishment of a central planning body to co-ordinate the work of the 16 free zones within Dubai. This body would have strategic oversight of all commercial property and be afforded the choice to make executive decisions that benefit the city overall.

To me, these and other ideas all deserve to be heard by the respective decision makers. However, they are not the kind of decisions civic leaders can make over night. They need to assess, ponder, consult and reflect, before deciding and that means we might be at Cityscape Global next year by the time any decisions are made.

Policymakers are also conscious of the heavily reduced tenanting cost of commercial office space, which means Dubai is once more financially attractive for organisations looking to set up in the Middle East or deciding where to base their staff. Coupled with the fall in residential prices, the city has been reclaimed as a mid-market proposition, which is a positive development since the mass of the market is always to be found in the middle.

Landlords bemoaning their bad luck at having built or invested in commercial office space only to find it untenanted, can also do their part to make Dubai a more attractive proposition. The convention over the past decade has been to hand over commercial office space as "shell and core" to the prospective tenant. This means the building would have its core structure, a vertical transport system (lifts, escalators) as well as the shell - the facade of the building.

However, the "in-fills", such as floors, ceilings, finishes and interior decoration are not provided to the commercial tenant.

In the 1990s landlords in the UAE would generally rent out finished commercial office buildings, with all in-fills completed. The change came about because of the need to accommodate ICT (information communications technology) infrastructure such as cable trays, patch panels, switches and the like. But today, much of this ICT infrastructure is either wireless or standardised and unless the tenant is setting up something akin to a dealing floor of a stock exchange, their requirements can be fulfilled with a more generic infrastructure.

So, if landlords reestablish the previous convention of providing their tenants with a finished commercial office space as opposed to shell and core it may encourage more companies to occupy such space. Remember, the cost of fitting out commercial office space can be more than a couple of years of rent on the property itself, so if it's already been done for the tenant then it makes the property exceptionally attractive.

A business acquaintance of mine was recently won over by a landlord who made just this proposal. The businessman is moving out of his old office space in a more cramped part of town to a new, fully in-filled commercial space in a mixed-use area.

Whether other landlords decide to be so innovative and follow suit, is a matter for them. But even a little innovation that spurs the market is better than none.

Built for commercial success means built to nurture people

By Rehan Khan. Published in The National www.thenational.ae on 6th September 2010. Any entrepreneur will testify that two of the greatest barriers to success are regulation and access to resources.

Regulation tends to be about the cost of doing business as determined by government policy. Access to resources will in most cases be related to finance and how to attract it.

The first is a barrier that the majority of governments have tried to lower in recent times: the cost of trade licenses, business incorporation certificates, employee visas and the like have been reduced.

The second is a thornier issue that in the UAE still represents a major challenge for entrepreneurs: banks and other lending institutions are reluctant to lend to entrepreneurs, and although there is a growing private-equity sector lending to small and medium-size enterprises, it still cannot satisfy the ambition of entrepreneurs in the local market.

But to this list I propose to add a third barrier to success: the problems that have resulted from the myopia of local property developers.

Entrepreneurship, particularly involving small and medium-size businesses, which represent by far the largest source of employment in the UAE, is almost unilaterally recognised as vital to speed up the recovery of any economy after a recession.

The agility and innovation of this segment are rarely found in large corporations, bar a few exceptions such as Apple. Even the technology company’s competitors say its workers have the minds of engineers and the hearts of artists. So ensuring that small and medium enterprises are flourishing is a priority for all who are concerned about the overall health of the commercial sector.

Yet even a cursory tour of some of the major master developments shows that developers have ignored the needs of small and medium enterprises.

For example, a drive through a half-completed project such as Business Bay in Dubai reveals that the high-rise towers built in this development have been constructed to serve major corporations, whose staff sit locked away in their towers. They may enjoy panoramic views, but they are isolated from real commerce and trade taking place at the ground level.

This type of contemporary commercial master development is an obstruction for entrepreneurs, as it hinders creativity and innovation. By its very nature, entrepreneurial success requires a built environment that resembles the traditional souq or the European equivalent of the village green.

Traditionally, these places allowed merchants and others to meet their customers, suppliers and business partners. They were places to build relationships informally and develop insight, to advocate opinions, hear from others and formulate new ideas, and to understand the market and learn from those with experience.

The result was a community of energetic, innovative individuals in which all, whether big or small in their trading capacity, flourished.

In contrast, today’s commercial built environments, with high-rise towers artificially stitched into the fabric of the city, foster disparate and isolated individuals. Office workers in these high-rises are often impoverished by a lack of contact with those outside their organisations.

These employees are programmed to be more comfortable in online social networking communities than real ones. They live their days within office cubicles, departing momentarily for lunch before being condemned once more to their solitary existence.

It is common for office workers in high-rise towers not to even know their neighbours on the same floor. They will see them every day in the elevator but rarely say anything to them beyond asking on which floor they would like the lift to stop. These built commercial environments do not create spaces where people can network with others.

There is an enormous amount of academic research indicating that in residential communities, a built environment that does not provide safe spaces for community members to interact, and green, traffic-free areas for relaxation, will be full of lonely and unhealthy people stifled by a lack of opportunity.

And the same rings true of commercial property. That is why we should be building environments that help entrepreneurs from small and medium enterprises flourish. In just about every instance, the environments will be low-rise settings. Dubai’s incredibly successful technology and knowledge parks, such as Internet City, Media City and Knowledge Village, are testament to this.

These low-rise environments have a mix of commercial, leisure, food and beverage and retail, and they have plenty of green space. They are vibrant entrepreneurial settings abuzz with energy and, most important, a sense of community.

Because these low-rise environments have created a sense of community, they remain tenanted for much longer, which in the long term works to the developers advantage. Tenants by contrast have easy access to amenities and plenty of open spaces to meet, talk, network and exchange thoughts and ideas. This is an ideal setting for entrepreneurs.

It is time the development community recognised this and ended its fascination with constructing towers. To benefit from the success of entrepreneurs in small and medium enterprises, developers must design communities that thrive at ground level, which is where the spirit of the souq and the village green resides. Think small, and low-rise, to create a big success.

Advertising falls short of earning its place online

By Rehan Khan. Published in The National www.thenational.ae on 5th July 2010. There is a company that generates 97 per cent of its revenue from a single source. Some say it is persuasive, others call it manipulative. It permeates almost every aspect of our lives and many of us fear that it holds too much sway over the minds of our children. The company is Google and the source of the revenue is advertising.

Organisations paid Google US$23.6 billion (Dh86.68bn) in revenue last year for their adverts to be placed in certain locations on its pages and within its applications, such as Gmail. Google is not alone in profiting from this business model in which advertising is the primary source of revenue.

Facebook, which now has an estimated 500 million global users, also has the same model. It netted $800 million from advertising sales last year and is valued by the venture capital firm Elevation Partners at about $23bn. That is a staggering multiple of nearly 30 times its annual sales revenue. And here is the interesting part, Facebook is expecting to go cash flow positive this year, which is not the same as making a profit.

The point to note is that both these companies rely on a single source of revenue – advertising. So potentially there is a single point of catastrophic failure in their business model.

If the mood of customers were to change so that they no longer wanted to view adverts then the business model fails. If the companies paying for the adverts realise they aren’t getting a big enough bang for their buck then the business model also collapses. And along with it go the starry-eyed corporate valuations. If that happens the only thing left to do would be to inscribe the names Google and Facebook on tombstones, to be placed in a corporate cemetery to rest in peace alongside recent mounds containing the remnants of Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.

The first crack in this business model is already beginning to show. Customers are being turned off by advertisers because they don’t trust them. Research by Forrester showed that only 20 per cent of adults trust online classifieds ads. Academic research backs this up.

We’ve reached this point due to the reckless abuse of salesmanship. For example, there was a time when the maker of the Chesterfield brand made the following claim in the New York State Journal of Medicine about its cigarettes: “Just as pure as the water you drink … and practically untouched by human hands.” It’s little wonder that the public has become sceptical of silver-tongued public relations and advertising executives.

We don’t trust adverts anymore, whether in physical form or in cyberspace. “The problem is not the medium, the problem is the message and the fact that it is not trusted, not wanted and not needed,” says Eric Clemons, a professor of operations and information management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “The internet is the most liberating of all mass media developed to date. It is participatory, like swapping stories around a campfire or attending a renaissance fair. It is not meant solely to push content, in one direction, to a captive audience, the way movies or traditional network television did.”

Over and above the lack of trust, the other problem with internet advertising is that it goes against the very grain of the internet as a communications medium.

When Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, the lead designers of the network architecture for the internet, were creating it in the 1970s, they put in place two fundamental principles. Number one was that there would be no central ownership or control so no one could decide what went on it, but each application would be judged on its merit. Secondly, the data – whether e-mail, images, phone – would be treated equally, so that one type of application would not receive priority over another.

Hence meritocracy and equality are two axioms of the internet.

And pushed advertising as provided by the likes of Google and Facebook is essentially an imposition on these two principles. It is not meritocratic because the advertisers have not earnt their place in our cyber lives and devices. Rather they have paid their way in; a fact that users resent. Neither does imposed advertising have anything to do with equality.

The internet is a forum that we all own and participate in. With the ability to self-publish through Web 2.0 technologies there are now more people today voicing their opinions and views across the world than ever before. The chatter in forums and blogs on web servers connected to the internet rises and rises to a deafening level, until everything is drowned out and we can hear only the hum of all of the voices together.

In this setting, pushed internet advertising is a complete waste of resources for the companies pursuing it. The message they are trying to communicate will be drowned out by the collective noise of the users, each one of them commenting and voicing their own views. And more fundamentally, their advertising messages are not trusted, so will not be welcomed but ignored.

There are ways to make money through the internet, but advertising provided by the likes of Google and Facebook is not one that I’d be banking on for too much longer.

Attention all staff: I am the boss so you must like me

By Rehan Khan. Published in The National www.thenational.ae on 24th May 2010. There is a paradox at the heart of modern management: managers state that employees are their most important asset but employees don’t feel that way.

That’s a view confirmed by the London School of Economics professor Richard Layard, the author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Society. His research indicates that most people are least happy when interacting with their boss. They would rather spend time with friends, family, even be alone – anyone but the boss.

This makes for pretty bleak news for all those, such as myself, who like to think of ourselves as progressive, likeable managers when in fact we might be ogres who make our teams cringe every time they see us.

During the industrial revolution management was about squeezing every last kilojoule of energy from the worker before he or she dropped.

The boss was breathing down their necks. There were of course some exceptions. Companies run by Quakers or philanthropic owners followed a different model.

However, by the start of the 21st century we were studying concepts such as emotional intelligence and neuro-linguistic programming in an attempt to soften management. Everything became touchy-feely, with casual clothing and pastel colours to create moods and values within the corporate walls.

So where did it go so wrong for this generation of managers to be so disliked? After all, these psychology-centred techniques had equipped us with the finer arts of management.

In typical management speak my “gut reaction” is to “break through the clutter” by “creating a sea change” as I try to “think outside the box” so that I can deliver a “high-impact solution”. And if you understood that, then you’re definitely one of the management, as opposed to one of the suffering employees.

In a nutshell, we managers need to find someone to blame other than ourselves for making our staff feel so miserable. It can’t be our fault.

So first on the list of possible culprits are the business schools who’ve been mass producing MBA students and sending them out into the world of work.

That’s certainly the opinion of the actor Michael Douglas, who was recently speaking at the Cannes Film Festival. He reprises his role as the ruthless, money-obsessed Gordon Gekko in the Hollywood film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the follow-up to Wall Street.

Douglas said: “I was pretty stunned after the first Wall Street by how people perceived Gordon Gekko. He was an insider trader who destroyed companies and people … We never foresaw that all those MBA students would be raving about this man and saying ‘That’s what I want to be.’”

Another possible villain can be the company we work for. As we spend most of our lives working within them, so they have made us who we are.

I saw a good example of this a few months ago when I strolled into an abandoned office on a prime location along the Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai.

The company that had been there, but which had folded, had left all of its furniture, paperwork and other office paraphernalia behind.

It felt eerie as I walked along deserted corridors and empty workstations; it looked as though a killer virus had swept through striking everyone down. I was half expecting a zombified chief executive to jump out at me from behind the photocopier.

The real chief executive had left his mark. Reading the company notice board, I saw that the first thing he had done when the financial crisis hit was to put up an internal notice to staff declaring “the company” had decided to cancel all annual leave.

A month later the next notice announced that “the company” would give written warnings to staff who turned up five minutes or more late to the office in the mornings. It also said staff would now need to declare the time they were spending away from their desks for toilet and smoke breaks.

In month three there was a solitary notice which said that “the company” was closing with immediate effect and any staff who hadn’t received their pay to date should seek the assistance of a legal representative to recover any amounts due to them.

The chief executive had already left town, probably with the blessing of “the company”.

It’s a shocking story but one that has repeated itself in many places. Managers blame the company, as though it were some separate consciousness that had been telepathically directing their behaviour.

How easy it is to hide management incompetence behind the teachings of a business school or the corporate veil of process and bureaucracy that pervades many organisations.

Yet in those companies where employees have a genuine say or some form of ownership, such as an employee-owned business, then we rarely see the mental and psychological disconnect between the manager and the managed. How can there be when every employee is also an owner in the business?

Management in that situation becomes about degrees of responsibility. Employees who are owners will naturally gravitate to helping one another achieve goals together that they cannot achieve individually.

The answer to the paradox at the heart of management therefore lies not merely in management techniques, but in company ownership structures.

Unfortunately, you won’t find this on the agenda of any management meetings.