Conferences, Exhibitions & Cultures

March 12, 2012

I have been attending international conferences and exhibitions since 1978.  I find that they provide a valuable insight into not only market and product trends but also, and probably more significantly, differences in international attitudes.  In 1978, I attended exhibitions in Tokyo and Chicago within a fortnight of each other and the national differences were dramatic.  My most vivid recollection of the contrast was the attitude of taxi drivers to tipping at that time:  a Japanese taxi driver jumped out of his car and came running after us to hand back our tip (he would have been offended by it).  In Chicago, one cabbie waited with his hand open until we had proffered a tip of suitable value!

My other recollection of differing national attitudes was my first experience of karaoke in Tokyo.  In those days, there would be a jukebox in the corner of a bar with a microphone attached.  Anyone could simply pick up the microphone and sing along to the record playing.  I remember thinking that there could be no circumstances in which such a concept would ever catch on in the UK.  A few years later, popular karaoke bars started to appear with computerised machines showing “bouncing ball” lyrics on-screen and using specifically recorded instrumental soundtracks!

In the world of workplace ergonomics, I have learned that the U.S. approach to office workstations is significantly different from Europe.  Apart from the most obvious manifestation (abundant keyboard trays in North America and hardly any in any other country), the lack of legislative imperative in the U.S. ensures that “workers comp” (insurance compensation for injured workers) is a primary driver, whereas various E.U. directives drive European interpretations.

Even across Europe, the level and nature of ergonomics activity in the workplace varies dramatically.  Whether you compare France to Germany, Sweden to Benelux or Denmark to Ireland, the principles may be similar but the outcomes can vary quite significantly.  In particular, ergonomics activity in the European countries around the Mediterranean is far less significant than in Northern Europe.  Perhaps plenty of sunshine and a long lunch break is the most effective ergonomics intervention!

Sales Outcomes – Random or Predetermined?

February 9, 2012

From time to time I have cause to think about how our sales operations and outcomes compare with those of our competitors.  On one such recent occasion, it occurred to me that the game cycle of a “slot machine” and the sales process are very similar!

Today’s gaming machines are microprocessor-controlled (effectively a dedicated computer) but the first slot machines were entirely mechanical. Pulling the handle started a clockwork apparatus and, as it slowed to a halt, the 3 reels also stopped. This activated a set of mechanical “fingers” which pushed through perforated metal plates on the side of each reel and the distance each finger penetrated the perforations enabled the machine to “know” what symbols were displayed on the centre line. Of course, these mechanical machines didn’t really know anything. Pulling the handle simply set in motion a train of events, the outcome of which was completely random.

Although we are very proud of how we employ the latest methods, knowledge and technology in our organisation, I rather like this old-school approach and we still apply it in our sales activities. When a customer comes to us with an enquiry, we make it our business to go through a systematic process with no presumption of the likely outcome.

By contrast, today’s “slot machines” are very different. When you insert your money and press the start button, the computer decides, in an instant, what the outcome is going to be and simply spins the reels for a few seconds before stopping them in the predetermined positions. This gives the player a perception of involvement and value. He or she would find it very unsatisfying if the reels spun to the new combination in a second!

So is your supplier a “random” or “predetermined” operator?  When you “press the start button” to begin your purchase enquiry, do you feel that the salesperson goes through a thorough process leading to your best eventual outcome? Or do you feel they have already decided what they want to sell you and their process is just a charade to give you a perception of value?

1962-2012 – A 50th Anniversary

January 9, 2012

Osmond Group Limited, the company I run, was formed in 1962 (when I was almost 7 years old). 2012 is therefore the 50th Anniversary of the business, a comparatively rare achievement in modern commerce.

As well as an opportunity for celebration, such an event also prompts reflection and I plan to spend some blog time over the coming year exploring how we used to do things, how we do them now and how things compare. First, a little background …

I am the oldest of four brothers and the company was originally established as I.S. Osmond & Sons Ltd. My father (the eponymous I.S. Osmond) obviously thought there was a dynasty in the making! In fact, one brother is now a Maths teacher, one is in the oil business in the United States and only Max, the youngest (who wasn’t even born in 1962), is also an active director, running our sister company, MSA Manufacturing.

Over the years, in addition to the ergonomics business, our corporate activities have included property development, a wine bar, a children’s clothes shop, business card printing machines, satellite TV, packaging, crafts, composite CNC machining, automotive logistics and Space Invaders. As I sometimes say, when asked for a profile, “I have been involved in running more businesses than I now have chins”!

Looking back through the archives, there are dramatic changes in technology, legislation and the understanding of workers and workplaces but our core values have remained remarkably constant. You might reasonably argue that Core Values must be constant but, over fifty years, the shape, size and activities of the company have changed dramatically and I am not sure that anyone had ever used the expression “Core Values” in 1962!

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