For posterity, news of the woodlands that we at Truth Legal planted, appeared in a whole range of local news outlets this week. I’m very proud of this endeavour, partnering with the awesome people at Make It Wild.
For posterity, news of the woodlands that we at Truth Legal planted, appeared in a whole range of local news outlets this week. I’m very proud of this endeavour, partnering with the awesome people at Make It Wild.
Welcome to the world: The Crowd Wisdom Project!
Spawned from my passion for, and frustration with, standard party politics, particularly local party politics, 2022 sees me launch the CWP. Founded as a birthday present to myself in 2020, had my health not been so topsy-turvy in 2021, CWP would have launched six months ago.
CWP springs from my prediction (which must be a borderline future fact) that the way we vote today – with a pencil and paper in a voting booth – will modernise. With bank branches closing, so that most people – regardless of age – now do their banking online, voting – the last vestiges of a bygone era – will – must! – change.
The recent election for the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in North Yorkshire witnessed a shameful 13.5% turnout. The victor – who remains a councillor twice over AS WELL AS BEING the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner – secured circa 3.5% of the possible votes. This is not a mandate: this is a stain on our democracy.
My hope for the CWP is that, in a small way, CWP nudges us towards a fairer, more consensual system of decision-making.
So, what is the Crowd Wisdom Project?
CWP – run through the not-for-profit company, Consensus Politics Limited (by guarantee, not by shares), uses open source, copylefted machine-learning technology – Polis – to run online conversations. These facilitated conversations are living, breathing, thinking affairs, unlike all other survey tools before it. Polis has been used to seismic effect in Taiwan, revolutionising their decision-making, whilst quelling antagonism. (Taiwan certainly has much to teach us about responding to a pandemic.)
Polis was created by some altruistic geniuses at the Computational Democracy Project in Seattle, led by Colin Megill. My hope is that I contribute to the development of, and awareness of, Polis – a tool of enormous potential.
Polis allows all voters to anonymously suggest statements and for all voters to vote on all statements. Polis then finds the consensus points and the cohorts within a group of people. Polis allows shy people (like me, believe it or not) to ventilate their thoughts. Social media works by pouring petrol onto disputes: whereas Polis is interested in the best ideas, not the ideas most shouted about.
When a Polis conversation is over, transparent organisations send the detailed reports to the voters. Of course, organisations don’t need to adhere to the discovered consensus points, but if they do, they know that the issue has been fully explored and that the best ideas have come to the fore.
With CWP, I offer my time, expertise and resources to environmental groups – at zero cost to them – to help them to find the best ideas and help build consensus, and compromises, around these positions. With New Year’s Day being the hottest on record, I fear that this limited effort is too little, too late. To save the planet we all need to make dramatic compromises in how we live: Polis could help us to find those compromises.
CWP will also help community groups at the half the cost we charge businesses (business being charged £150 per Polis). For business, as I have found with my law firm, anonymous Polis conversations work very well for navigating tricky issues such as Covid risks, as well as for planning for future business strategy. I also believe that Polis’ anonymous modus operandi could work well for improving the mental health of a workplace.
I have always been obsessed with the power of good ideas: what CWP does best is to unearth the finest ideas. Humans have it within us to solve all human-caused problems. With my health uncertain (and isn’t this so for us all?), I want to be as potent as I can be in 2022. Wish me luck!
And if you know of any business, environmental group, community group or political group who are brave enough to try the very best of technology, please give them my details.
Wired-up to a portable ECG monitor whilst I type, I feel like a hybrid human-cyborg. Doubtless this state-of-the art gizmo is cleverly reading all the electrical signals going to my heart, but the contraption’s poor wearability contrasts sharply against the brilliance of the tech. When my heart plays up – or, when I think that it does – I press the green button on a small, dangling pad. The pad is the end point for all the wires criss-crossing my torso. The pad will attach to a belt in such an ungainly manner, wires hanging everywhere. Even more cackhandedly, the pad might just squeeze into a pocket, with the wires protruding as if I’m wearing some form of suicide vest.
Design-wise, clearly what would be optimal is if the pad could be strapped to the body – somehow – because when, say, one needs the bathroom, down goes the trousers, which in turn yanks the pad downwards, straining the wires stuck to my chest. What a palaver! Should the wires become disconnected from the pad, the ECG test fails, to be repeated next week, probably. Showering or bathing is out of the question, which again is a preventable inconvenience. If the pad attached to my chest, then I could then wash waist-down, but no.
Not in the least do I feel put out by this minor imposition, which will only last 36 hours or so, but what has fired me up is that the solution to the dangling pad is so very simple. Over the years hundreds of thousands of people will have gone through this process, but nobody has yet thought to improve its user experience. Why is this? Is it because the user – i.e. me, the patient – doesn’t purchase these things, rather it is the medical practice which does?
Famously, from its seemingly impregnable position as the leading player in video rental back in the 1990s, through foolishness, Blockbuster didn’t become Netflix. When Blockbuster’s CEO recommended to the board that they moved into streaming services, the Board poo-pooed the idea, stating that they made too much money from late returns – returns which wouldn’t happen with a streaming service. Goodbye Blockbuster Video!
Similarly, due to inertia throughout all car manufacturers, a start-up electric car company, founded by someone who knew nothing about cars or manufacturing products, became the most valuable company in the world: Tesla. The other car manufacturers continue to play catch-up. Thank goodness for Elon Musk.
Speaking to a senior paramedic recently, I asked him – just how invaluable did he and his colleagues find the health apps stored on smart phones, available to emergency workers? He had no idea what I was on about, so I showed him what I meant. (If you don’t know, your smartphone should allow you to record some basic health information about yourself, ideal if you’re unconscious and someone needs to know why that might be.)
Of all the thousands of paramedics, most will have smartphones. Of these, many will be aware of the healthcare app functionality and, I imagine, a fair percentage of these will have updated their own information. Despite this, it has not become standard operating procedure for paramedics (and police, we think) to access such information. Why has this happened? It seems so obvious to an outsider. Does the culture of ambulance services stymie positive change?
Since Facebook became omnipresent, most users realise that they are the product; that data is a new currency. The more in-depth a platform knows its users, the better it can allow third parties to sell to their users. Mass data is powerful.
Though the internet is readily available in the West, I am only aware of Stuff That Works as a means of collating vast amounts of data on health conditions and using AI to link various conditions, for the benefit of all humans. This is a new entity, set-up by a lady whose daughter had a chronic health condition. Spending hours scouring the internet for tips, with a background in tech – having helped found the awesome app, Waze – she created this tool which I predict will revolutionise medicine. Watch this space.
But why did the NHS, or a similar organisation somewhere in the world, not create this? Why has an outsider – a non-medic, like with what Elon Musk did with electric cars – create this game-changing health tech, rather than an insider?
Three interconnecting theories spring to mind.
First, as Tony Blair talked about in his famous 1999 speech to the Labour Party Conference – The Forces of conservatism speech – he outlined that in all elements of society, including within the Labour Party itself, forces of conservativism hold back progress. Many people don’t like change, goes the argument, blocking improvements in all sorts of organisations – be they public sector, private or third sector. Conservatism, with a small “c”, delays human development.
“And it is us, the new radicals, the Labour Party modernised, that must undertake this historic mission. To liberate Britain from the old class divisions, old structures, old prejudices, old ways of working and of doing things, that will not do in this world of change.
To be the progressive force that defeats the forces of conservatism.
For the 21st century will not be about the battle between capitalism and socialism but between the forces of progress and the forces of conservatism.
They are what hold our nation back. Not just in the Conservative Party but within us, within our nation.” My underlining.
Blair was right.
Second, as David Epstein argues in Range, often the most successful people in a given field, hadn’t specialised in that field early on in their careers. Citing numerous, compelling examples, Epstein posits that the generalist is more likely to make a breakthrough in a field than someone who has been working in that field for far longer. He says that generalists deploy orthogonal thinking to solve problems, drawing on their wider knowledge of often unrelated areas.
Third, in the case of the ECG machine’s dangling pad, capitalism isn’t at work here in the traditional sense, as the user isn’t directly parting with their money. Had Amazon reviews been an option, the minor adjustments needed for the ECG would have been made long ago.
Well, that’s my take on matters.
Fasten your seatbelts. Our cryogenically-frozen economy, though in tatters, will recover at a never before seen pace. As an SME-owner here in Yorkshire, let me explain.
Last week brought confirmation – as if it was needed – that the economy took a 20% fall in April. The only surprise was that it was only 20%. Of course, some businesses are booming, but the majority have been hit, just as my law firm has suffered. Large swathes of businesses are in stasis, never to be seen again, when (word of the year) furlough is ushered out.
With our economy heavily dependent on the pursuit of pleasure, our economy ought to be permanently poleaxed. A 1930s-style depression – not just a recession – ought to be a sure thing, right?
The Bank of England defines a recession as 6 months – i.e. two quarters – of concurrent negative economic growth. Q1 – January to March – saw a small Covid-caused contraction, which won’t be a patch on what awaits us in Q2, taking us to the end of June. But will the recession be a continuous feature as many argue?
Brexiteers should be quick to recall “Project Fear’s” warnings, some say led by Bank of England economists, that a guaranteed Brexit-induced recession would commence at 10pm on 23 June 2016 if the people dared to vote against “The Experts”.
Like many Remainer Economics grads, I was convinced that a recession was here to stay. As the economy tanked, “We told you so,” was going to be the refrain to every Brexiteer. Although post-Referendum the Pound took a pummelling, there was no recession.
Which leads me to the failure of economists. On the left, there are Marxist economists, and on the right, we have Thatcher’s and Reagan’s go-to economists at the Chicago School, with every shade in between. Science, medicine and law do not suffer such polars. Economists agree on little. Despite our fetishisation for the opinion of demi-god economists, we must remember that economics simply isn’t a science. And we now know that scientists aren’t always right!
In forecasting what economic fortune awaits, economists frequently miscalculate likely consumer behaviour. People rarely act as anticipated and our economy is powered by this unpredictable force. Economically, Brexit was like the Millennium Bug: we survived it and thrived. Post-Referendum, confidence – the currency of capitalism – was not dented. As the queues I saw outside Sports Direct in Harrogate attest, the confidence gained from the opening of shops will power us out of the carnage.
Whilst my colleagues trickle back to (socially distance) join me at work, Yorkshire’s economy awakens. Listening to my SME clients and witnessing all around my town, I can feel the most powerful economic positive multiplier spinning into action. As a result, Quarter 3 must be better than Quarter 2. If so, recession over, second wave or not.
Though for millions the economic misery will be devastating, unlike when a typical recession hits, such devastation will play out in a rising economy. Capitalism which got us into this mess, through its intrinsic creative and dynamic juices, will get us out of it. The AC – After Corona – economy won’t resemble the BC – Before Corona.
Like pulling back a giant elastic band for three months, either the band will snap, or fly. Fly it should. April’s collapse in GDP wasn’t caused by the economic cycle, which Gordon Brown told us he would conquer, rather it was a choice we had to make. Consumers will ignore the war-era debt mountain and the inevitable tax hikes, and buy that coffee.
Shortly unimpeded by EU State Aid rules, given the need to shorten supply chains, manufacturing will return. With our lower cost base, Northern areas should benefit most. And assuming the Prime Minister survives, we will have a leader oven-ready for the good times. Like him or not, he will be better at getting the country going than in mastering Covid minutiae. My only hope is that in recovery austerity is confined to the ash-heap of history.
From Boris to Karl Marx, accurately bogeyman Marx, in a little-read passage, explained how crime had economic utility, arguing that crime caused better locks, and locksmiths, police, lawyers, judges, law books and law tutors etc. Already, Covid has been the midwife to numerous businesses. More will follow. Excitingly, some of the largest companies were founded in recessions.
In closing, in the US Fed Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan used to study male underpant sales. Why? The theory was that men – and their partners on their behalf – would only buy new underpants when they were feeling confident about the economy – i.e. the ultimate discretionary spend. I don’t know about you, but I’m off to M&S.
A wonderful lawyer business coach – Ann Page – helped me in my early years of my law firm. Ann interviewed me for her new book Business Skills? Don’t be daft I am a lawyer. Due to illness, I was unable to attend the book launch. What follows is my speech, which was kindly read out by my colleague.
Since Ann conducted her interviews, I have tried some psychotherapy. Everyone should. Trawling through my past, it’s easy to see where TL came from.
My parents ran businesses, in fact, my dad at 77 still runs a business. They discussed business at the table. These things just soak in. I guess what soaked in most of all was that it was “normal” to work for yourself.
My first business was aged 9, selling coke cans at school. I would go to the wholesalers with my folks. Borrow the money for a crate of cans, then sell the cans at school during the summer.
The second business was washing cars, which was much harder work.
I didn’t much enjoy school, and despised law school so much so that I asked for my money back. I don’t go out of the way to break the rules, but I really didn’t like following others’ rules.
My interest in politics, particularly left-wing politics, developed on my degree, killed my business instinct. Left-wingers simply didn’t discuss business, even ethical business.
Fast forward to 2007, I qualified and took a job at Ford and Warren, now Weightmans. I hated it. Before I was 1 year PQE, I got my dream job at Thompsons – which was very left-wing trade union law firm. So left-wing was I that I was the elected as the trade union rep for the lawyers – and I organised a strike!
After a few years, I became incredibly disillusioned, because the firm which was meant to look after the working person became hypocritical. The nail in the coffin was when my second child was born, my firm wouldn’t let me take the two weeks of paternity leave over two periods! I’m still narked about that.
So with two kids under two, my wife on mat leave, I resigned. It was a toss-up between being a stay-at-home dad, or setting up my firm. I’m glad I set-up, as my children wouldn’t have made it their second birthdays!
My business plan was on one page, and like any business plans, they don’t survive their first meeting with a customer. I costed that the firm would cost 30k in year. Doing predominantly No Win, No Fee personal injury work, I knew that cashflow was going to be my biggest headache.
A funny story is that, when costing our family’s outgoings for year one, I came to the conclusion that if we made some savings, that we could get by. I genuinely broke down in tears – and I’m not a crier – when I realised that I forgot to take the mortgage payments into account.
I borrowed 30k from my folks. I still owe 10k!
In terms of bringing work in, although I am not “techy” I realised that there was very little content online about “assaults at work” – an area of personal injury law that I had specialised in.
My first day at work was 30 April 2012, but I wasn’t allowed by the SRA to practice until 15 August 2012. It’s weird starting a firm, because you start with no legal work! But I was busy – very busy – writing content, policies, etc. During this time, I went on Ann’s management course.
Work came from all sorts of areas. Other lawyers. People in the virtual office. A friend of a friend. The very odd thing about running a law firm is that, before you went solo, friends and family wouldn’t ask you a question or send you a case. When I was alone – without any structure or supervision – then people send you all sorts.
A wonderful lawyer and person, Angela Davies, invited me a BNI networking event. I remember that 6am start more than any other event over the years. The penny dropped for me. I felt like Neo in the Matrix. Harrogate is full of networks – and that’s how most of the work is won.
Networking taught me business: learning and listening to others. Watching businesses succeed and fail. Teaching you how to spot a charlatan. Teaching you how to give an elevator pitch.
Year one I made a loss, and of course was down the 40k salary I was on in Leeds. Year two, Georgina Parkin came along as our first trainee solicitor, because I was rammed with work and she had had the good sense to send lots of letters demanding a training contract. Georgina earned more than I did for the first few years. That’s something they don’t tell you. You borrow money to put in, then make a loss, but pay your staff AND lose the salary that you would have had in your old job.
My ingrained, innate plan was always to hire staff and to hire brilliant staff. I was always worried about going under a bus and leaving my clients high and dry. As I had rough health as a kid, I also knew that I needed a decent-sized team because I was going to be ill at some point – and sure enough that has happened.
Podcasts have honed by business acumen, particularly podcasts emanating from the US. I now run three podcasts. Our brand and website was inspired by a US marketing legend called Seth Godin. He came up with the Purple Cow theory of marketing. Truth Legal was a purple cow. It had to stand out online, particularly in a world of some dodgy “have you had a claim in the last three years” cowboys.
As a Quaker, I was inspired by some of the Quaker business legends of the past: Rowntrees, Cadburys, Lloyds, Barclays, Waterhouse, Clarks etc etc. Studying what they did, they treated their people well, their customers trusted them, and as a result their businesses flourished. Those Quakers were, I would argue, some of the first ethical business leaders. I’ve tried to follow their principles.
I would finish with a few points I’d like to make:
I want to be the best person that I can be, using all my God-given and nurture-generated, attributes, whether I am at home or at work. At home, I want to be a dad who is around as much as possible (and available should an emergency present itself) as well as being able to financially provide in both the short and longterm.
I want justice. I want to give birth to a company. I want to control my destiny. To make a journey. To maintain the highest standard of integrity with all my inter-personal dealings. To stop manager-caused anxiety. I want to provide an outstanding, cheap and fast legal service to those who have been wronged.
I want to work smarter: to work close to home, in an area I adore, at a pace that I choose, when I want. I don’t crave vast riches; I just want to be rewarded fairly.
I want to work in relative quiet. I want to properly research legal issues. I want to write a book. I want to be able to mould future lawyers. I want to be part of a team in which all staff don’t mind coming to work; where the staff share in the success of the enterprise – be that with financial rewards or with other dividends such as good career development.
I want to be dynamic. To be creative. To improve my presentation and advocacy skills. To develop other skills. To grow as a human. To become more rounded.
I want to use the law firm for political ends, in terms of helping the needy or by raising my own standing so that I can help the needy from my privileged position.
Too often the little guy, who finds himself embroiled in a dispute, is either priced out of obtaining legal advice, pays for lawyers he can barely afford or has appointed lawyers, whom he didn’t properly choose.