Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Musing over the Sunday Papers over breakfast this week-end, I was intrigued by a note in the Business Section of the Sunday Times, that Lord Forte, the 98 year old hotel tycoon who died recently, had left the princely sum of £80,000 in his will.

Now you always imagine that people who have been as financially successful as Lord Forte will have ensured that their tax affairs are arranged so as not to provide too sizeable a windfall for Her Majesty’s Government when they pass on to the Great Hotel in the Sky. However, I couldn’t help thinking that, in spite of passing the control of his company to his son many years ago and therefore avoiding a good deal of Inheritance Tax, for such a man to get away with 80 grand was a bit of a result, but Hey-Ho, pass the marmalade, please.

This morning, we read that a slight error has been identified in the workings of the Winchester Probate Office, and that the £80,000 figure has been slightly amended to read £80,150,000. Cripes!

It is one of those situations where you really wanted to be in the office of the Probate Manager, at the exact moment when he or she twigged what had happened – a video recorder would have been nice here.

And why does the word, which encapsulates such a guiltily pleasurable feeling, have to be German. “Schadenfreude” is, as we speak, absolutely le mot juste here, but those Englishmen of a Eurosceptic persuasion should surely start to insist here and now on the invention and future obligatory use of a single Anglo-Saxon word, to replace this European intrusion.

There is a bit of a serious point here though. The managerial process with which we all handle activities and decisions in our businesses should include a simple question asked of oneself when starting some task, or reviewing an outcome. “What do I think the answer should be, and when we get a numerical result at the end of a piece of work, does that answer feel reasonable?”

Without trying to be big headed here, my eyebrows twitched just a bit when I read the piece on Sunday, but, being on holiday, the marmalade won. But, why didn’t the guy in charge of the probate figures, as well as, particularly, the investigative journalist who wrote the piece, just think to themselves – “Hang on a minute, that doesn’t feel right. I’ll just have another look at that.” I’ll bet that journalist is feeling just a tiny bit sheepish at the moment.

It’s an important filter to wave over a whole range of Business reviews, and just occasionally, using it avoids the gloriously deep embarrassment of having to explain “We’re sorry we were wrong by just over 100,000%, but we put the decimal place in the wrong position.” I know the feeling because I’ve done it, and I did feel a total and complete idiot.

And no one, anywhere in your organisation will EVER allow you to forget it. They will all ensure that it will be with you for all time.

We should give it a name - I would suggest we call it Common Sense, except it’s actually quite rare.



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