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Grab your goat and let’s go…

Creativity and innovation in any organisation should always be welcome and whilst technology is often at the forefront of innovation it is sometimes the really simple ideas that can create benefits.

Unfortunately, in this particular situation it didn’t quite go according to plan.

The initial idea was good. Officials in charge of the 1,200 acre Minto-Brown Island Park in Oregon in America were concerned that several invasive plants were taking over the park and killing off a number of the native flora including maple and hazelnut trees.

The solution put forward was to create a crack team of 75 goats who would eat the invasive plants such as the Armenian blackberry and the English Ivy which would then mean that the native flora would thrive.

75 goats were duly obtained from a company called Yoder Goat Rentals (as an interesting aside I wonder how many of you were aware that you could rent a team of goats. I certainly wasn’t.)

The goats got down to work but 6 weeks later the project was cancelled.

There were a number of issues.

Firstly, the goats were fairly relaxed about what they ate. In terms of the invasive Armenian blackberry for example they decided to eat the tasty blackberry leaves but left the prickly bramble. This resulted in the plant carrying on growing.

Secondly, they didn’t show any distinction between the (tasty) maple and hazelnut trees which they were supposed to be helping and the invasive plants.

Thirdly, the total cost of the 6-week pilot programme was $20,719 which was nearly 5 times the $4,245 cost for a normal parks maintenance man supported by a prison inmate work crew.

Finally, according to a report to the city council the goats “had a barnyard aroma”.

In summary, a nice try but it didn’t quite work. Still, as any successful business person will surely agree, you don’t progress unless you try. Better luck next time and at least the goats had a nice 6-week holiday in a lovely park…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

What’s one way of increasing the chances of getting hold of someone’s password?

Does it involve the use of the very latest supercomputer? Does it involve some clever IT geeks hacking into a computer for you?

Or does it involve chocolate?

A bit of research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour attempted to find out how people are obligated by the kindness of others. Or in other words, if someone does something nice for a person, how likely is it that the person will be nice back to them?

The researchers in Luxembourg conducted a survey of random people in the street asking them about internet security including questions about passwords.

Some of the people interviewed were given chocolate and some weren’t.

30% of those that were not given chocolate revealed their passwords which to me is a surprisingly high percentage and just goes to show that quite often human stupidity is the weakest link in internet security.

For the people who were given chocolate at the beginning of the interview the figure rose to 44% and if the chocolate was given just before the question on passwords was asked an incredible 48% gave their passwords! Yes, nearly half of the people asked their passwords as part of a survey told a complete stranger their password if they had been given chocolate.

Andre Melzer, the author of the study said that “when someone does something nice for us we automatically feel obliged to return the favour”.

So, in conclusion, if someone walks up to you in the office and offers you a piece of chocolate be careful what you say…

Are you better looking than your boss?

So who’s better looking – you or your boss?

Well, if you are male and your boss is also male there could be some disappointing career news for you if you think you are better looking than your boss.

A study has suggested that male bosses are less likely to promote good-looking men who work for them.

The study by University College London’s School of Management concluded that good-looking men were considered competent by their male bosses but as a result were also seen as a threat to them and their own personal career aspirations.

This raises an interesting point. Organisations no doubt want to employ the most competent people but if a male boss is reluctant to recruit or promote good-looking men because they take the view they are a threat to them personally then it means that good-looking men could be discriminated against whether or not they are competent.

Dr Sun Young Lee, the lead researcher on the study was quoted as saying “organisations want to hire competent candidates but individuals have their own agenda. When employing someone, they do not want the newcomer to do better than them and show them up”.

“What about good-looking females” I hear you say?

The study concluded that the same prejudice did not apply to women. Being a good looking lady was not associated with competence according to the study.

The study was published in the Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes journal and Dr Lee felt her results suggested that organisations should consider appointing external recruitment consultants to avoid personal preferences impacting on recruitment decisions.

One additional point though is that if you yourself are male and have recently been overlooked for a promotion by your male boss then surely the only reason you didn’t get the promotion was because you are better looking than him…

EY confirm the women were real

Some of you may have heard of the website Ashley Madison.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Ashley Madison, it’s a website where married people can register to meet other married people without their respective husband or wife knowing and then have an affair.

In fact, some of you may be registered members of the site (this does raise the question that if you are a registered member of Ashley Madison and are reading this business blog then at the moment you are finding business stories more interesting than having an affair so well done on that).

Ignoring the rights or wrongs of a website facilitating affairs, Ashley Madison has had an up and down ride over recent years.

Back in 2015, they were hacked. As a result the personal details of their users were leaked and there were a lot of users. When I say “a lot”, there were 32 million users.

The situation got worse for Ashley Madison though.

As well as their systems being hacked and details of who had signed up being leaked, it turned out that the vast majority of users were men and of the women who had signed up a significant proportion were Bots (i.e. a piece of software) or prostitutes.

All in all, not great selling points when trying to encourage new members.

In an attempt to build up trust (if trust is a relevant word for people looking for affairs that is…), Ashley Madison commissioned Ernst & Young to cast an eye over the membership data and see if it stood up to scrutiny.

There were some interesting results including the fact that 15,542 new members signed up each day in 2017 (that’s nearly half a million new users per month).

There were also more active women on the site than men. Globally, the ratio of active males to active females was 1 to 1.13 but there were variations on a regional basis ranging from Australia where the male to female ratio was 1 to 0.78 and Columbia where the ratio was 1 to 2.39.

Ernst & Young also reported that “The Client had used Bot programs to generate message activity with paying customers in prior years. The Bot programs were decommissioned in 2015 and our procedures related to calendar 2017 found no evidence that the use of Bot programs previously operated had been reinstated.”

So, in theory the registrations are human and there’s no danger of falling in love with a bot.

The full Ernst & Young report can be found at www.ashleymadison.com/2017report but I would be careful as if you’re viewing this on a computer at home and your husband or wife finds you’ve been visiting ashleymadison.com then there could be some difficult questions to answer.

Then again, if you start typing in the website and your web browser recognises it from a previous visit to that site then maybe…

Popcorn and profits

Despite the growth of online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime it seems that we are still going to the cinema to watch movies.

Cineworld is the 2nd largest cinema chain in the world with 9,500 screens in 10 countries and they have just reported their latest financial results.

Sales increased by 12% to £891 million in 2017 and profits showed a healthy jump of 23% to reach £121 million.

It’s probably stating the obvious but the success of a cinema chain is largely driven by how good the films are. Cineworld said that their 2017 box office performance had been “underpinned by a strong film slate”.

In 2017 the top 3 films they showed were Beauty and the Beast, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Dunkirk. Together, these 3 films grossed £197.4m for Cineworld.

If you compare this with their top three films in 2016 (Star Wars: Rogue One, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Bridget Jones’s Baby) the figure was £149.4m.

A difference of nearly £50 million.

It’s not just the ticket price that brings in revenue for them though as movie goers buy a lot of popcorn and fizzy drink on their night out.

Almost 25% of their revenue in 2017 was from refreshments and this showed an increase of 11% on the previous year as it rose to £220 million.

I guess a key question for the business is whether the blockbuster films will continue in 2018 and whether people will still be filling themselves with popcorn and coke.

The company seems positive and are expecting the strong results to continue. With films such as Solo: A Star Wars Story and Jurassic World scheduled for this year and Minecraft: The Movie and Frozen 2 due in 2019 who would bet against them.

A great recovery

We’ve all made mistakes but the key thing is how you recover from those mistakes. ASOS, the global internet clothing company recently made a mistake but recovered from it really well.

ASOS is an incredibly successful company. They sell over 80,000 products on their website and last year had over 15 million active customers and sales of nearly £2 billion.

One thing they are not that good at though is using the spell check function as they printed 17,000 packaging bags with the slogan “discover fashion online” spelt using “onilne” instead of “online”.

Now, what would you have done in that situation?

Would you have ignored it and hoped that no one noticed or cared about it?

Would you have scrapped the bags?

ASOS did neither of those and recovered brilliantly by tweeting:

“Ok, so we *may* have printed 17,000 bags with a typo. We’re calling it a limited edition”.

So, depending on how you look at it you’ve either got a bag with a typo on it or a limited edition collector’s item.

A brilliant recovery by ASOS. Turning a typo into some great publicity.

Does this mean Way Too Fat?

January is one of the most popular months for people looking to lose weight. New Year resolutions often revolve around getting fit or dropping a kilogram or 2.

Losing weight can be big business for companies.

Weight Watchers is one of the largest and most successful companies involved in the business of losing weight. They were founded more than 50 years ago in the living room of entrepreneur Jean Nidetch in Queens, New York and since then have grown to a huge company.

They now have over 1 million active members who attend approximately 32,000 Weight Watchers meetings around the world.

That’s a big organisation and they have just signed up a big star to help with their promotions.

The American music producer DJ Khalad is big in a number of ways.

Firstly, he is one of the largest stars on social media (he has nearly 4 million Twitter followers).

Secondly, he is large in terms that he is overweight.

DJ Khaled isn’t alone in trying to lose weight in 2018 but what makes him different is that Weight Watchers have signed him up as a social media ambassador. He will be paid an undisclosed sum to follow the new Weight Watchers Freestyle programme and will document his progress on his social media accounts.

This is obviously good news for Weight Watchers because it will be great publicity if he loses weight (we’ll ignore for now what happens if he doesn’t lose weight…).

The market also thought it was good news as the shares in Weight Watchers shot up 8% on the New York stock exchange the day his appointment was announced.

Maybe it’s best not to go out for a big meal to celebrate though…

Things are changing…

There’s an interesting movement in the types of planes which the large airlines are demanding.

10 years ago, the Airbus A380 or the “Super Jumbo” as it’s known, was launched with the aim to transform the airline industry by enabling up to 868 people to fly in one plane.

But things are changing and the anticipated demand for the superjumbos hasn’t materialised. Airlines are instead preferring smaller but more efficient twin-engine planes.

The most number of A380s that Airbus produced in a year was 30 but the order book has collapsed. Last week it was reported in Euronews that Airbus are exploring plans to cut A380 production to 6 aircraft per year.

Another company that has been affected by the drop in demand for A380s is the leasing company Amedeo.

Amedeo’s business model involves them buying aircraft from the likes of Airbus and Boeing and then leasing those aircraft to airlines.

Amedeo for example has purchased four A380s from Airbus and leased them on to Emirates.

The challenge for Amedeo though is that they have eight A380s in their portfolio and have another twenty on order from Airbus. Given that the demand for A380s from airlines has dried up, that’s not particularly good news for them.

However, they have come out fighting and announced that they will be launching their own airline.

Instead of simply leasing the plane out, the new business model will involve them running things as an airline. They will offer seats to existing carriers who will provide the ticketing service but Amedeo will operate the flight using their own cabin crew.

As well as offering the flights to existing airlines, Mark Lapidus the chief executive of Amedeo raised the prospect of providing flights for potential partners such as Airbnb.

Time will tell how successful this will be but it certainly is a novel approach to trying to find a solution to what to do to address the fall in demand.

It will be a pleasure to go shopping with you…

It may be stating the obvious but if you’re a retailer in a shopping centre you’ve more chance of making a sale if people are in the shop.

Retailers in shopping centres face a number of threats. Some of these are a more recent phenomenon (e.g. the rise of internet shopping) whilst others have been around for a number of years.

One of these threats which has been around for a while is something which I’m sure a number of our male readers can sympathise with.

Let me ask the male readers out there who are married a question – have you ever gone shopping with your wife and at the start of the shopping trip things were going well but it soon descended into a long and windy journey through shops which to the male eye looked very similar but to the female eye were all different and offered new and exciting opportunities to try new items of clothes?

With the wife enjoying every moment but the husband getting more and more frustrated it is only a matter of time until stress levels rise, an argument ensues and the shopping trip is cut short.

A number of shops have chairs for the men to sit on and magazines to read but over in China, Shanghai’s largest shopping centre has come up with a novel way of keeping men occupied so that the wives are free to shop without the husbands getting bored.

Global Harbour shopping centre has introduced “Video Caves”. These are glass booths with a comfortable chair, a games console and a large screen. Men can be left to play computer games free of charge whilst their partners can shop to their heart’s content. The booths are soundproof so the computer games won’t disturb the other shoppers.

All in all, a great idea to keep the both the “lady shopper” and the “dragged behind man” happy but is there a potential problem?

After all, if you ask a lady how easy it is to get her other half off of a computer game when he’s nearly reached his top score, will we start to see women looking bored whilst waiting for the husband to finish his video game…

It’s the language of…

Language schools are big business. Research from the British Council predicts that more than 1.9 billion people will be actively learning English around the world by 2020. That’s a lot of people but will a recent bit of technology result in a change in the number of people learning another language?

A small US start-up company has recently launched a translation earphone.

Waverly Labs has introduced technology that may be the first step in making the need to learn another language redundant in years to come.

They have launched a translation device which is similar to a wireless earpiece. The earpiece is linked to an app on a mobile phone and when one person speaks in for example French the words are processed by software so that the words are played back in the earpiece in another language such as English. The impressive thing is that the translation is in real time with only a few seconds lag.

The first batch of headsets will support English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish languages.

More languages are expected to be rolled out soon.

Whilst there are already translation devices on mobile phones such as Google Translate, the Waverly Labs product is the first that offers a discreet earpiece to translate so that a face to face conversation can be held without having to look at your mobile phone to understand what is being said.

The earpieces can be pre-ordered for $249 and could well be the first step in terms of making face to face communication between different languages a lot easier.

All in all, very nice.

Or should I say, très agréable, sehr schön, molto bella, muito agradável, muy agradable.