In the opening chorus of Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard, there is the wonderful line: “In the autumn of our lives, in the evening of our days.” And so, as my journey through middle age accelerates rather too alarmingly, I have started to reflect on how I have survived for so long. With a smile I have come to the conclusion that the reason is really quite simple – I have successfully mastered the art of doing as little as possible but doing it rather well!
There are some people who are always busy. They never seem to stop working. The worst of them even volunteer for additional work. I think I can understand why. In an increasingly competitive world they think (wrongly) that they will become indispensable if they are always busy. I feel rather sorry for them. They must be so dull at dinner parties.
From an early age I decided to take a different path through life. I was never lazy. Indeed at school and the LSE I was something of a swat but hard manual work was not for me. I preferred the finer aspects of life. I still do...
Choosing public affairs as a profession allowed me to combine a love of politics, gossip, fine food (and wine) plus great music, never forgetting lots of humour and laughter. It was one of my best ever decisions!
Throughout my life I have always had what is charmingly called ‘the gift of the gab’. My mum used to say that I had swallowed the Blarney Stone. In the work context, it has made me something of a master when it comes to winning business. This is where the art of less than more comes into its own.
"I have successfully mastered the art of doing as little as possible but doing it rather well!"
Many years ago I arranged to have lunch with the CEO of a Canadian company specialising in smart metering. When he arrived, I asked him to pour the wine. He asked to see the bottle. He smiled and told me instantly that I was appointed which was something of a blessing as I knew bugger all about smart metering. The reason? I had asked my PA to speak to his PA and enquire what he cared about most. The answer was a particular South African Sauvignon Blanc. That single call won me a contract worth £100k. A triumph for less than more!
I have always used social events to win new business. Some agencies spends thousands of pounds on research materials and even bring in ‘pitch doctors’ to try and help them win new business. I would rather arrange a trip to the Barbican where clients and prospects can mingle together. Who better than an existing client to persuade a prospective client to appoint me over dinner on the Third Floor at Smith’s after a musical feast? Again, rather less than more...
There will be some who sneer at this approach to both life and business. Old school they will spit out. Yet most of them are blessed with anonymity and I (most reluctantly) am not. By chance I have perfected a way of doing things which seems to work, at least for me.
The reality is, of course, that the skill is making things look easy. I have spent 30 years learning to love the late operas of Richard Strauss, the four symphonies of Frank Schmidt and the writings of Evelyn Waugh. Now that I do, however, I can dazzle at any table with the finest of them and make it all look so very simple.
Restaurants have been key to my ‘art’ for as long as I can remember. Pick the right restaurant for a meeting and select the perfect wine and a successful outcome is guaranteed. I have never needed evaluation templates. A good Viognier is much more effective!
And what of politics? It is my lifeblood. I love the gossip (informed speculation) and the people. An evening spent in the Pugin Room provides more insight than any great tome on the Body Politic. So why do I rarely ever see other public affairs folk there practising my art?
Perhaps I really am an old dinosaur about to be killed off by a sudden meteor, but until that happens I will continue to perfect my art of doing less than more and doing it rather well. Cheers ...
Article written by Peter Bingle, founder of agency Terrapin Communications
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