My work ranges from C-suite communications through business-to-business marketing communications to academic and scientific editing.
My portfolio covers books, magazines and reports that I have edited and also part-written, as well as essays that I have published in my own name. The following is a brief selection.
The Cost of Life
Paddy Hartley. Editiones Roche, Basel, 2022 (Author and editor)
The Cost of Life is the catalogue to an exhibition of works by the British artist Paddy Hartley commissioned to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Roche in 2022. The artworks explore the profound and intimate relationship between society, healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, centring on the experience of the patient.
“Visiting Paddy in his studio in Berwick-upon-Tweed as soon as lockdown regulations permitted, I was able to observe at first hand how the concept of the proposal for ‘The Cost of Life’ was being translated into three-dimensional reality, and I gradually began to understand the notion of ‘The Cost of Life’. If the proposal and plans that I had originally studied had appeared complex to me, the message of the artworks, even while still in a nascent state, was clear. It was an essay in ceramics on the experience of the patient — that is to say, the experience of us all — in the face of the fear, pain and suffering but also the hopes and imaginings that accompany our experience of inhabiting our physical bodies. Illness and injury are a universal and inescapable part of the human condition. We have all lain on a sick-bed of some kind. We have all nursed some wound or other. And we have all witnessed those experiences in others — others whom we love perhaps even more dearly than we love ourselves. Watching Paddy at work, I realised that he was fulfilling his calling as an artist to
the highest degree: he was telling us what we already know, but what we struggle to articulate, either to ourselves or to those with whom we long to be able to speak.”
Tomorrow’s Answers Today: The history of AkzoNobel since 1646.
Commissioned to celebrate a global rebrand in 2008, Tomorrow’s Answers Today is the first ever one-volume comprehensive history of the global paints and coatings company AkzoNobel – a history that includes, among many others, the stories of Nobel Industries, Courtaulds and ICI, as well as Akzo itself.
“Alfred Nobel began his career as an entrepreneur by trying to make nitroglycerin a commercial product. The first manufacture of his ‘blasting oil’ took place in a shed in Stockholm where Nobel’s destitute father and family were lodging. While being used for this purpose in 1864, the shed blew up, killing Alfred’s younger brother Emil and four other people. For all its tragedy, this accident – to which the press of the day devoted considerable attention – was a more convincing demonstration of the explosive power of Nobel’s blasting oil than all his test explosions for potential clients. The orders suddenly flooded in, and only a month later, the Swedish State Railways started using ‘Nobel’s patent blasting oil’ to excavate a new tunnel. In the same month, October 1864, Nobel joined forces with the wealthy Stockholm investor Johan Wilhelm Smitt to found his first company, Nitroglycerin AB, to manufacture and market the new product. A year later he set up Alfred Nobel and Co. in Germany for the same purpose, again using funds from local sponsors. Nobel was to repeat this successful formula in many countries around the world – finding local backers with funds and influence, building a plant in a secluded spot, obtaining the necessary licenses, avoiding the use of banks and lawyers, and keeping his own financial investment to a minimum. His entrepreneurship was enhanced by the showmanship with which he demonstrated the properties of his new products. Nobel was always careful to invite the press to his demonstrations, at which he displayed the safe handling properties of dynamite by throwing boxes of it from cliff tops before detonating it to create massive explosions in solid rock.”
Good Nutrition: Perspectives for the 21st century
Karger, Basel, 2016
(Technical Editor and member of the Editorial Board).
Good Nutrition: Perspectives for the 21st century offers a wide-ranging view of the challenges and opportunities for nutrition in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Nutrition brings the world together. All human beings, everywhere in the world, have broadly the same nutritional needs. Nutrition also divides the world – into those who have enough to eat, and those who have not, those who enjoy safe, quality foods, and those who do not, And those who have highly specific nutritional requirements and those who do not. The food we eat is a potent symbol of the sea unity and the division of the world we live in.
Next to breathing and hydrating, eating is the most essential of all bodily requirements. For this reason, it is sometimes considered a simple matter. Nothing could in fact to be further from the truth. Continuing advances in nutrition, science, genetics and genomics show how complex the many biochemical processes involved in nutrition are, while the dramatically increasing rate of population growth is placing unprecedented strains on natural and van-der made food systems alike. Nutrition is anything but simple.”
My work as an essayist, interviewer and reviewer falls into two main areas: the philosophy of nutrition and the philosophy of work. The following is a brief selection.
The Philosophy of nutrition
Food as Love in the Maigret Novels of Georges Simenon
Sight and Life 1/2020
The fictional French detective Maigret is famous for his pipe, his physical size and strength, and his intuitive approach to solving crimes. He is also famous for his love of the table, as investigated in Food as Love in the Maigret Novels of Georges Simenon.
“The food and wine critic Daniel Rogov has observed: ‘Maigret was more than a great detective. He remains known throughout France as a charming, sensitive man who has earned the respect of his colleagues as well as of the rogues with whom he had contact. It may well have been his special brand of quiet diligence, especially the ability to search out good food, that so endeared Maigret to the hearts of the French – a feat especially impressive when one considers the usual attitude that these good folk hold toward their policemen.’
In a world of food insecurity, the double burden of malnutrition, and broken food systems, it could be tempting to regard the world of Maigret, with its cafés and bistrots and good bourgeois cooking, as a place of escapism – a province of the mind in which the reader can play at being a detective and a gourmet at the same time. It is much more than this, however. ‘I’ve starved too, like Chaplin, like so many others, and I’m glad of it,’ wrote Simenon in When I Was Old. Born in Liège, Belgium, in 1903, Simenon was a teenager during the First World War, and grew up in a world of tragedy and deprivation. Via journalism, pulp fiction, detective fiction and literary novels, he wrote his way to fame and wealth and security over the course of many decades. But he never forgot the poverty and failure of his early years. He never forgot the importance of food, and love, and home, and he imbued his alter ego Maigret with this sensibility too. When Maigret smells the fragrant wafts of French cooking, there is a man inside him with an empty belly and no money in his pocket who smells it too.”
The Mediterranean Diet in Homer’s Odyssey
Sight and Life 1/2020
Much has been written about the Mediterranean Diet since the term was first coined by the American physiologist Ancel Keys in the 1950s. Appropriate Eating in Homer explores the differences between the modern ‘Mediterranean Diet’ and the diet of Homer’s age, noting the centrality of sharing in the Mediterranean concept.
“Occurring traditionally in parts of the world that enjoy a Mediterranean climate, and not just in the geographical region of the Mediterranean itself, the Mediterranean Diet offers widely attested health benefits, especially for cardiovascular health. It also has an important social component: UNESCO’s 2010 Candidature Dossier proposing the recognition of the Mediterranean Diet as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity expressly describes it as a ‘social practice’ (pratique sociale). The Dossier even goes so far as to underline this point by quoting the Ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch: ‘We do not sit down at table to eat, but to eat together’ (‘Nous ne nous asseyons pas à table pour manger, mais pour manger ensemble’). Thus Homer from the perspective of the 8th century BCE and UNESCO from today’s perspective agree that the Mediterranean Diet is not just about what we eat but also about how we eat.
This view is supported by the fact that the Ancient Greek word diaita (δίαιτα), from which the English words ‘diet’ and ‘dietetics’ are derived, was taken in ancient times to refer not just to alimentary intake but also to exercise. The food-drink-exercise triad was indeed also sometimes expanded to include bathing and even sexual practices, giving the word δίαιτα a much broader meaning than ‘diet’ in the modern sense, and closer perhaps to the concept of ‘regimen of life’, ‘way of living’, or even ‘lifestyle’.”
Malnutrition and Psychosis in
Sight and Life 2/2016
Malnutrition and Psychosis in “Don Quixote” explores Cervantes’ masterpiece as a casebook on the understudied relationship between diet and mental health.
“In an extensive study of Don Quixote’s diet, Prof. Barry Ife of King’s College, London, analyses the relationship between what Don Quixote consumes and his mental condition. ‘It seems clear that Don Quixote's diet is frugal, monotonous and unappetizing, and it is hardly surprising that with such meagre fare Don Quixote is as thin as he is always portrayed.’ But Quixote's bad habits are not limited to diet. He also neglects his sleep: “He spent his nights reading from dusk till dawn and his days reading from sunrise to sunset.” ‘Here we have the classic syndrome of the single male,’ continues Ife: ‘the fatal combination of late nights and junk food. Most men go through this stage at some point in their lives, and most men grow out of it. But Don Quixote never does, and eventually he makes himself so ill that his brain dries up and he starts to lose his wits … Cervantes did not need to be a qualified doctor to recognize the symptoms of sleep deprivation and malnutrition, or to know what the combined effect would be on his hero's behaviour in the novel.’
The combined effect is to push an essentially intelligent and educated man, a kindly, thoughtful and deep-thinking person, into an insane fantasy in which he views himself as a lone redeemer whose task is to set the world to rights single-handed … He literally beats up the world and gets soundly beaten up in return. As his perplexed housekeeper fumes after one of his sallies: “The first time they brought him back lying across a donkey, beaten and battered. The second time he came home in an oxcart, locked in a cage and claiming he was enchanted, and the poor man was in such a state that his own mother wouldn’t have recognized him: skinny, pale, his eyes sunk right into the top of his head; to bring him back to himself a little, I used more than six hundred eggs; God knows that, and so does everybody else, and my hens too, and they wouldn’t let me lie.”
The Philosophy of work
Stick or Twist? Or: What Has the Company Ever Taught Us?
From: Crisis, Credibility and Corporate History Ed. Alexander Bieri, Liverpool University Press, 2014
The keynote speech from the 2013 Symposium of the International Council or Archives, Section on Business and Labour Archives, Stick or Twist? examines the validity of corporate history as an intellectual discipline and considers innovative new ways of telling the histories of companies.
“Work is where many of us spend most of our waking lives. Work is something that makes us what we are, and something that we shape even as it shapes us. The corporations of tomorrow will need not only to cultivate their history, but more than ever to cultivate relationships with those who have a potential interest in their history. The traditional corporate archive is one element in the mix, and it will continue to have an absolutely central role. But I believe that the aspirations, preoccupations, discoveries, triumphs and disasters which make up the history of all great companies deserve a bigger, broader treatment. The story needs to be given to other people to tell, even if they may not tell it in exactly the way the company may desire. We need the great corporations to be commissioning the novelists and dramatists, the artists and songwriters, to create works which critically examine what capitalism has collectively achieved. Not lucrative propaganda. Not embittered protest songs, either. But mature, serious and honest encounters with what we have done with all those countless hours of our lives spent working for the company. We need the great corporations of the world to be cultivating an atmosphere in which their activities are the subject for mainstream artistic treatment and philosophical debate, not just for ephemeral headlines.”
Breaking lances, dying in ditches: A survival guide for the international change manager
The Journal of Change Management, November 2000; reprinted in the WPP journal Atticus Volume 7, 2001; winner of WPP Atticus Marketing Communications Award 2001
Breaking lances, dying in ditches argues that change projects often fail to meet their objectives due to the selection of change agents who are either temperamentally unsuited to their role or else inadequately trained for it. It outlines the five key dimensions of the change agent’s function and the six essential characteristics of the change agent.
“Knowing your audiences will not further your cause, however, unless you are completely clear about the messages which you are trying to convey to them. Here again, the secret is not in arcane complexity, but rather in clarity, consistency and coherence. It is important here to stress that the messages which will require communicating in the course of a change programme will not be merely verbal in form. We communicate by nature, and even non-communication is a form of communication. That is, the entire manner in which a programme is conceived, planned and implemented, says something about it, and a bad impression created by high-handed management of staff or amateurish handling of analysts will not be rectified by a few glib statements in a press release.
For all the fact that we are living in the age of communication, there are still very few born communicators in any social grouping, and just as few born diplomats. A management team which thinks it can palm off a workforce with conventional corporate blandishments will very soon learn the speed at which goodwill can be destroyed, and will have plenty of time to reflect on how difficult it is to salvage it once lost.”
The Three in Ten Method: A practical tool for managing change
Communication, Issue 60, November 2000
Business leaders need to keep their messages simple to cut through the noise of an ever more complex operating environment. The Three in Ten Method proposes a straightforward and powerful methodology to help decision-makers deal with the challenges of change even as the ground is shifting underneath them.
“In an ideal world, change management projects would start at square one and proceed through squares two, three, four and so on to their inexorable completion. The basic objectives would be clarified from the outset, budget would be set aside, responsibilities defined, methods selected, resources allocated, deadlines approved, and measurement criteria agreed – and the project would evolve from planned stage to planned stage, from numbered square to numbered square, with supreme mechanistic irreversibility.
We do not live in an ideal world. We live in a real world, which is to say, a very messy, complicated, confused one in which many things happen in the wrong order, and many more appear to happen in no order at all. It is in this world that the change project has to be implemented. Whether it involves a corporate restructure or a repositioning exercise, the relocation of staff or the re-engineering of business processes, we can be sure that it will not start at square one.
It might start a square three in might start a square three, square seventeen or even a square thirty-two. Attempts might have been made to start and restart it at square twenty-one (gridlocked with new legislation), square three (strewn with cultural incompatibilities) or square fourteen (besmirched with staff defections). One thing is clear, however: whatever the history of the project – and of the projects which in turn gave rise to that project – the people responsible for it now will have to deliver certain results, and will be judged by their ability to do so.
For people involved in change management, therefore – whether their role is an in-house or a consultancy one – one of the keys to success is being able to approach a complex set of issues with the openness of mind and clarity of vision which the ‘square one’ position confers.
Three in ten method is a way of achieving this. Its underlying philosophy is based on the observation that the human mind cannot effectively process more than three concepts at any one time.”