Goodbye Felix Dennis

Last week, someone very special to me died. I could have sworn I posted here about his passing, but the week was a bit of a blur and I clearly hadn't.

Last year's post about him (Poetry in Motion) will give a flavour of my feelings about Felix.

BunchBooksLogoRead his 'company poem' The Bearded Dwarf to get a sense of what life was like aboard the good ship Dennis Publishing, or Bunch Books as it was when I worked there. (I understand Rolls Royce was none too happy about the logo. I knew life there would be a blast as soon as I saw it engraved in the glass above the entrance door.)

Felix took me on to help create a personal computer magazine. This swiftly turned into the relaunch, in September 1979, of Personal Computer World.

 

Here are some posts I made in Facebook last week – the only place I semi-publicly shared my thoughts and feelings.

23/6 RIP Felix Dennis, wonderful man, good friend. We're gonna miss you so much.

 

23/6 Me, Sylvie, Felix and mystery person in foliage. March 1st this year. Didn't know it was our 'goodbye' to Felix. Lots of great memories of the man.

FelixSylvieMe+other Small

 

24/6 When I met Felix Dennis, he took me to the art room where they were laying out John Wayne's obituary. I said, "I didn't know he'd died." Felix said, "He hasn't yet, but he's very ill." Eye opener for me.

What has amazed me this week is that papers and online sources have had years to get the facts right about Felix, yet they still manage to screw up his biographical basics.

It makes me wonder how much of what we read is similarly incorrect.

 

25/6 I go to sleep thinking about Felix Dennis and I wake up thinking about him. It's like an infection of the brain. He's never far from my thoughts because he had such a profound impact on my life. I'm probably going to shut up about him for a while but, before I do, I'd like to share a couple of his insights with you.

One is a scan of an interview I did with him years ago for the now defunct "Sustainable Solutions" magazine. It was so completely against the sustainability grain that the publisher loved it.

The other is the pdf of his excellent lecture (Journalism or Churnalism) on why the reader is king.

Enjoy. And take heed.

Goodbye Felix. Thank goodness you've left such a huge written and recorded legacy.

 

29/6 If you think you've got a great story about Felix Dennis, check these out first. They are utterly brilliant. (They're tributes from people who've worked for him.)

 

You don't have to agree with everything Felix did, few people would, but he was a man of utter conviction, he was honest, he was an inspirational publisher and he made a massive difference to tens of thousands of people's lives. (Maybe more than that.) Including mine.

Thank you.

 

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What Tebbo did next

Looking back at the past five years, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve worked exceedingly hard on three major projects: Freeform Dynamics where, as an analyst, I became deeply involved in social, cloud and environmental aspects of ICT. Then Blue & Green Tomorrow, where I launched, edited and wrote all the news and many features in the print edition. Then 6Connex EMEA where I consulted (and still do) on all manner of things – mainly writing stuff but also getting roped into the technical side of things as well. As a virtual event company, 6Connex also has a strong environmental angle.

Following a particularly large project which almost gobbled me up, I find that I can rebalance my life somewhat. So I’m back to doing more writing – monthly in cio.co.uk, about individual CIOs and their sustainability efforts, and private commercial writing (B2B). I even run the odd writing skills workshop.

I’m also training in media skills either solo, with PR partners, or with Martin Banks, depending on what’s required. Clients are usually blue chip ICT clients but I’ve also worked with a chemical company, a charity, some engineering firms and a university.

No doubt things will unfold in interesting and unexpected ways. They usually do. If anything changes radically, I’ll let you know. You still won’t see many blog posts here in the short term, but I wouldn’t rule it out long term. At the moment, my editing and blogging urges are more than satisfied with The Right Thing To Do?.

So there we are, just in case you were wondering. If you’re not, I guess you wouldn’t have read this far.

 

The right thing to do?

Recent events have drawn me away from Teblog and I think they’re likely to keep me away. But I am involved in something much better.

First a bit of background: editing and writing much of the original paper version of Blue & Green Tomorrow gave me massive opportunities to write about the environment up to May last year; on the communication front, media skills training hit an unexpected peak in January; and, since June, I’ve spent at least half of my time with a company which hits every Tebbo hot button: communication, environment and IT.

The people I work with are great and we’ve created a neat website, demo and knowledgebase plus various social media presences. The company itself, 6Connex EMEA, is all about online events, content and collaboration, thus accelerating work and cutting the costs (financial, social and environmental) associated with travel.

But it gets better. Tracey (the boss) and I wanted to do something extra but non-commercial. Inspired by the work of the Lunar Society at the dawn of the industrial age, we wanted to get right-minded people to share their practical insights with each other and with anyone who cares about making the world a better place. (The motivation is similar to Blue & Green Tomorrow’s. The difference is that it goes way beyond environmental issues.)

We’ve had direct contributions from people like publishing mogul, poet and forest builder, Felix Dennis and green investment wizard Ben Goldsmith. We’ve covered some interesting TED videos – one on Gross National Happiness and another on why things will get better. We’ve also had people who are at the heart of change in educational systems and one who argues that growth and sustainability are incompatible.

 

Some pioneering contributors and featured presenters in The Right Thing To Do?

TRTTD folk

Top row: Euan Semple; Clive Longbottom; Ben Goldsmith; Ray Maguire.
Bottom row: Matt Ridley; Chip Conley; Felix Dennis; Salman Khan.

 

Just this week, social networking guru, Euan Semple, contributed a great post entitled “Bloggers are the rag and bone men of the information world.”

Everyone is giving their time and ideas for nothing. No-one puffs their business directly, although they can all share their credentials in their mini-bios. TRTTD exists for knowledge sharing and discussion which will provide a bedrock of thoughtful considerations for our collective future. Depending on individual circumstances, posts are either contributed, the product of an interview or are written up around an online video.

Curating TRTTD seems to me to be a much better cause than continuing with Teblog. I’ll keep it open for now, but expect most of my energies to be spent elsewhere. And, if you like the sound of “The Right Thing To Do?” why not come on over. It would be great to see you there. Here are the Website and Twitter links.

 

An evening with PR/Marketing Guru, Larry Weber

Back in May, I trotted off to meet with marketing/PR guru, Larry Weber and a bunch of other interesting people, including Jack Schofield (IT man at the Guardian for donkey's years and erstwhile competitor – we both edited PC magazines in the early eighties) and Bill Nichols an academic and marcomms/reputation consultant who, when Jack and I were competing, was Clive Sinclair's PR man. They were both on the speaker panel with Larry. The other notable people were in the lively audience.

The occasion was the UK launch of Larry's (then) most recent book: Everywhere. It's about social networking being at the heart of the future of business. He calls this 'anytime, anywhere' access the the fourth wave of computing. (I ought to know what the three earlier waves were, but I've forgotten. Maybe it was brains, internal networking and internet, or something.)

No surprises so far then. But I don't think Larry set out to surprise us particularly. More that he wants to share his familiarity with the subject matter in a non-frightening manner. After all, the people who really need his insights are those who are probably the most fearful of openness, transparency and genuine dialogue. You might think of them as the 'command and contol' brigade. While this has its place, it's probably not where the rubber of the corporation hits the road of the marketplace.

Sorry, I should be talking about Larry's evening. (And, if you're wondering why it's taken me so long, it's because I was suddenly pitchforked into a new company and I've been more than a tad busy. My conscience was pricked by a Facebook post about his recent presentation to the Public Relations Student Society of America. The headline of the post was "Social media's impact bigger than television's.")

At his book launch, he predicted that, by 2015, "you'll be hard pressed to find any newspapers or nightly news on TV." He says, "TV ads have got to die sometime." He may not always provide answers but he knows how to provoke fresh thinking. Let's hope the revenue replacement doesn't put the TV companies even deeper in hock to corporate sponsors.

With regard to the Fourth Generation thing, he told the story of how he sent off for brochures from all the prospective colleges for his daughter. She didn't look at one  of them. She'd already done her research online. Except she didn't refer to it as online. When Larry once said to her, "I'm going online", she replied "Oh Dad, we don't go online any more. We just are." Online, that is. And a lot of people reading this will know what she means. If you're not one of them, then it's likely that his book will interest you.

Another thing he talked about was Innocentive. Companies give it problems and money and it gets its community of 'solvers' to apply their brains. Larry gave examples of $100,000 here and $25,000 there. It's all online (of course). And the winning contributor exchanges their IP for the cash. That's a great commercial application of crowdsourcing. Related to this were his comments on how social networking allows for the intense, focused, sharing of knowledge. I think his book goes further and talks of micro-segmentation of the internet so that you can find a community and go deep into just about any subject that interests you.

He is very clear that successful companies (especially consumer-facing) will have to become radically transparent, be willing to share and also to stand for something that will resonate with customers and prospects. Core values that permeate the company's business. Larry doesn't claim it will be easy, but he sprinkles his conversation with stories old and new of how companies have turned on the proverbial dime. Dell, of course. BP to a certain extent. And so on.

I was quite taken with the idea that, "big sites will die under their own weight." He said this because he believes that all the power is now in the network. Not sure that a behemoth like IBM would totally agree with this sentiment, despite its strong advocacy of social networking values. With statements like this, the evangelist in Larry seems to pop out of the closet. (My views of evangelists are here.)

Let's turn to one of the other speakers, Bill Nichols. He scored a hole in one for me with his observation that "People respond to emotion and fairness."

I have the sense that the former has been faked and the latter missing for a long time.

If Larry and Bill are right, we would seem to be heading towards a better and much more harmonious world.

Let's hope so.

What if climate models are wrong?

Plenty of people will argue for and against climate modelling. Some in far more detail than I’m able to understand.

One man who’s spent the latter part of his career challenging the modellers is Richard Lintzen, professor of meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, his career is now winding down.

It doesn’t matter what ‘side’ of the climate debate you’re on, it’s important to keep up with all points of view. Especially expert points of view, like Lintzen’s.

He has problems with computer modelling. And I can’t say I blame him. I’ve worked in the computer business since 1966 and one of the first things I was taught was the importance of GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Lintzen notes that not enough account is taken of the mitigating effects of cloud cover in the climate models. I’m guessing that’s not all that’s missing.

Call me simple-minded if you like, but I look at it like this: The Met Office, despite its ever-larger spend on modelling systems, keeps changing its mind about short-range weather forecasts. Maybe long-range climate models are more reliable, but I doubt it.

The climate debate is agonisingly difficult for everyone that cares about the future. And it certainly generates enough hot air to seriously impact the climate today. But, as a private individual with virtually no scientific training, there’s nothing I can do about the debate itself. So I subscribe to a ‘sustainability’ or ‘quadruple bottom line’ ethic which aims to balance economics, society, the individual and the environment.

And, yes, I put ‘economics’ first because it’s the lubricant for achieving many of the other results.

All organisations and individuals are capable of seeing whether their choices are, for example, polluting the land, sea or air or diminishing scarce resources. They are all capable of seeing how they can change their behaviour in order to reduce or, in some cases, eliminate their harm. The really clever ones may even find ways of delivering a net benefit to the environment.

It’s only by billions of us improving our choices today that we’ll leave a world worth living in for our children, grandchildren and their descendants.

Do we really need a heated debate based on computer models to shape our future? Aren’t the common sense arguments of sustainability for all going to get us to the same place? And probably more quickly.

 

 

 

 

Small is Beautiful

On June 21 1973, Peter Lewis – the Daily Mail's Literary Editor – wrote a review of a book that was to change the direction of my life: Small is Beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered by E.F.Schumacher.

I rushed out and bought a copy and, among other things, was taught the wisdom of a focus on need rather than greed. It led me to the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), now called Practical Action, and many other environmental and sustainability initiatives.

I mention it today because, clearing out the garage the other evening, it fluttered to the floor. I thought you might like to read it. Click on the image to see it in a new window (zoom to suit).

SIB

Apologies for its general dishevelment. (And, to those who are sensitive to such things, for the fact it was in the Daily Mail.)

Here on Earth

HereonEarthI finished reading Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth a couple of days ago.

It lays out a fascinating history of our planet, the flora and fauna and their effects on it (including mankind, of course) and what we need to do to ensure our own species survives. We’re the only ones with the intelligence and understanding to change our ways.

His recipe for global cooperation – a shared ‘mneme’ which acknowledges the harm we’re doing and how to reverse it – is plausible in the abstract. But the book contains all the seeds (no pun intended) of why this is a tall order.

As a provocation, the book is excellent. If you’re of a defeatist mind-set, you could end up very depressed by it. Especially if you have children and grandchildren. On the other hand, if you have a grain of imagination, it could start you thinking very seriously about how we get from an unacceptable ‘here’ to a desirable ‘there’.

It will mean change, and that’s the threat to religions, nations, different strata in society, business, politics, and so on. All have to find ways to put our common interest ahead of their own.

The book is very readable for the most part – at its best when describing our world and its mechanisms and, understandably, at its weakest when suggesting a way forward.

But, unlike the alarmist books which simply annoy, it gets you thinking. And, for that reason alone, I think it’s worth a read.