Saturday, October 30, 2010


I'm doing my best to lose a load of the weight I've put on since being here. What with not walking or cycling, indulging myself in yummy Southern food, and eating huge American portions, I've put on a few pounds. I've finally got around to making good on my New Year goal to do something about it. I'm even going to the gym most days, and if you know me, you'll know how much of an achievement that is.

Of course, it's easy to point at the ridiculous food you see on Web sites like This Is Why You're Fat, or the absurd (but wonderful) treats like fried cheesecake or the Monte Cristo sandwich. But really, that's not the problem. The fact is that the basic serving size is enormous, and verging on the obscene.

On Wednesday, we went to a restaurant for a birthday dinner. I went with the dieter's meal. For $12.99, they gave me a small Caesar salad, a half-size portion of what was basically a burger, mashed potatoes and broccoli with some cole slaw, and a half-size dessert. In other words, half a regular meal.

I couldn't finish it. I managed the salad, half the main course, and none of the dessert, and went home feeling full. On Thursday, I ate most of the rest of the main course and half of the dessert for my lunch, and still felt full at dinner time. Then yesterday, I finished the main course and the cole slaw for lunch, had a small dinner in the evening, and the rest of my dessert.

In other words, a half size meal fed me for nearly three days. A whole normal meal works out as practically a week's worth of food for an average middle-aged man. In some places, a frickin' salad contains more calories than I need for the day! So even when you try to stick with the healthy options, they're still way in excess of what's necessary, or even sensible.

Compare recipe books from the 1930s with modern recipe books, and what used to be 8-12 servings is now considered 4 servings, even though we're all much less active these days. The smallest latte in Starbucks is three times the size of what you'd get in a French cafe, and contains about a third of my daily caloric needs. I could go on, but there's no need.

And that, my friends, is why I' m fat. And why most Americans are fat, and why there's an epidemic of diabetes.

Let me just reiterate. A half size restaurant meal fed me for nearly three days.

The answer's simple. Put less food on the plate.

Friday, October 29, 2010

On Leadership

One of the books Ralph Nader constantly referred to in his satirical book Only the super rich can save us (which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago) is John W. Gardner's On Leadership (1990). It's a masterpiece.

How often have we all said that we don't have any true political leaders any more? In Britain, the last real leader we had was Maggie, and she was a mixed blessing at best (or an evil bitch, if you prefer). In America, there hasn't really been anyone since JFK. Barack Obama may yet turn out to be a great leader, but it's too early to tell. It depends whether he survives the next two years (politically and physically), and that's highly questionable.

Gardner's book asks two important questions. What is a leader, and how do we create them? He takes care to distinguish between leaders and managers, and between leadership and power. That actually sums up what's wrong with governments today. They're run by managers who wield power, and people hate that. So-called "UK plc"* is a vile idea, that reduces people to nothing more than shareholders and workers, and makes it clear that those at the top are there to boss people around and extract profit from them.

He also points out that leaders occur at all levels. It's not just about Presidents and Prime Ministers. It's about union leaders, youth club leaders, and others who can initiate widespread change. Arguably - though these examples post-date this book - the most inspirational and effective leaders we've seen in Britain in the last 20 years have been Bob Geldof, Bono, and Jamie Oliver. (And before you tell me not to be so stupid, think about it. They've done more to motivate people than any political or religious leader of recent years. Geldof and Bono have both been nominated for a Nobel peace prize, which is something none of our prime minsters are likely to achieve, and Oliver's been awarded a TED prize, putting him on a par with Bill Clinton and, err, Bono. And yes, it says a lot about Britain that two Irish pop stars and a TV chef show more leadership than anyone in the government.)

For most of the book, Gardner discusses the qualities required of a leader. He worked at many levels of the American government, and with many Presidents, and so he had the opportunity to see leaders of many types at first hand.
  • Vision: a leader looks beyond the immediate situation and gives people something to aim at. Not just a wishy-washy "things will be better," but a definite, achievable set of goals. Like putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, or achieving a society in which black and white people are treated equally.
  • Affirming values: a leader stands for something that people want to believe in. He is a living example of what people should be. What he's trying to do reflects what's important to that society.
  • Inspiring trust: people follow a leader because they believe in him. They are prepared to let him take the tough decisions, and they will back him, because they trust him to do the right thing.
  • Accountability: as part and parcel of being trusted, the leader accepts that he is accountable to his followers. The buck stops with him. If he screws up, he will admit it and let people judge him on his record.
  • Motivation: a leader makes people want to achieve. When he speaks, people act. They don't just go back to their normal lives, or grumble to their friends. They do something.
  • Managing: a good leader doesn't act alone. He has to get others to do what needs to be done. He has to deal with crises, manage budgets, and delegate work. A good manager isn't always a good leader, but a good leader has to be a good manager.
  • Achieving unity: leadership is often about building consensus and achieving compromise. You can't lead half a country. Well, you can, but then you get either civil war or the political stalemate we've had in Britain and America for the last few decades.
  • Knowing the system: you can't manage or achieve unless you know the ways of politics. (Just watch Yes, Prime Minister.)
  • Decisiveness: leaders don't um and aah. They don't have time. They cut through the crap and get on with the job.
  • Explaining: people need to understand what's happening, especially if their leader is going to take them through a difficult time. A leader needs to be able to explain what he's doing, and why. It's not the same if it comes from a subordinate.
  • Being a symbol: the leader is the person people look up to. Once he takes that office, he's not just himself. He's something more.
  • Representing the group: the leader is an ambassador, and other people's perception of the whole society is coloured by that. Look at how Europeans treated Americans under George W. Bush, and how they now treat Americans under Obama. Same people, different leader.
  • Supporting their followers: one of the key qualities of a leader is to make his followers believe that he is doing his best for them. He is working on their behalf. He is enabling them to do what they want. Even if it's a tough path, he has to convince people that he is acting for their benefit, not his own.
There's obviously much more to it than this, but it's a great checklist. Does David Cameron have these qualities? Does Ed Miliband? I don't think so. Brown and Blair sure as hell didn't make the grade. It looked like Blair was going to cut it for the first few few months after ousting John Major (another non-leader), but then he made it pretty clear he was just another corporate shill. Where's the vision? Where's the trust? Where's the accountability?

I have no idea where the next generation of leaders is going to come from, but I am sure of one thing. Until we have leaders we can respect, admire and trust - even if we disagree with them - we won't have governments worth a damn, and basically, we're all screwed.

*For the benefit of my non-UK readers, a plc is a Public Limited Company. UK plc is the idea that you can treat and run the country like a giant corporation.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In at the deep end

Learning's a weird thing. We all do it in different ways. Some by watching, some by experimentation, some by theory, some by reading. I used to be a reader, but for some reason, that's changing. It may be middle age, it may be the nature of the things I'm learning, or it may just be that I'm learning new learning techniques.

Once upon a time, I'd learn things by reading manuals. Cover to cover, grasp everything, and if there were exercises, I'd do them in my head. Then I'd get going.

Then I started to learn by playing. I'd mess around with a piece of software, try things, and gradually absorb what it could do and how I could do it. That's how I learned to use Photoshop, in my own, idiosyncratic way. I've tried reading books or watching tutorials, but somehow, it never stuck. The only time I've learned new tricks is when someone looks over my shoulder and says - the right way - oh, did you know you could do this instead, and it's easier / better / faster ? And then I can take that little tip, relate it to what I'm doing, and use it.

Nowadays, though, I only seem to be able to learn software when I have a specific goal and some serious time pressure. If I know what I'm trying to achieve, then I have a structure to work with. I don't get distracted by obscure features or unnecessary tasks, I just focus on learning everything I need to know to get the job done. And, because it's a real project, not a test project, I learn it and remember it.

Right now, I'm learning how to make eBooks. I've spent a day or so looking at how it's done, researching the market and the different devices and formats, and doing the basic research. I've got the tools, and now I need to learn how to use them. I've opened them up and played with them a bit, but I'm none the wiser. The solution is simple. Start on the first book right away. Screw it up, get it rejected, do it again, repeat until satisfactory.

I know the job can be done in a day. Two days is normal. So I'm allowing myself a week for the first one. Then, as I get better, I'll get quicker, and within a few iterations, I'll know all I need to know to hit that one-to-two day target. Then, once I have the process down, I'll start picking up tricks to do more. It works out quite efficiently, and it means I'm getting real results very early on.

I think it's mainly due to the fact that most software is way more feature-rich than I need. I probably only use maybe 10% of the functionality of most of the apps I have. The rest are unnecessary. If I started learning by playing, I'd be lost in irrelevance, and getting frustrated that I wasn't doing the thing I was after. Yes, it might be nice to figure out how I can make a book title that wings its way onto the opening page like a flight of swans, forms beautiful letters while rippling through all the colours of the rainbow, and then bursts into flame, leaving nothing behind but the words scorched onto the electronic paper, but really, that's not as important as figuring out how to put the damn text onto the reader, is it? Task-based learning forces you to focus on what's critical. In the process, I'll notice the option to create animated titles, and I can come back to that when I have time, or if I have a project that would genuinely benefit from it.

It's the same with pretty much all apps. They do way more than I need. So does my phone. So does my bloody dishwasher. (What exactly are those other four programs for? Isn't the WASH program enough?) I can't be bothered to figure everything out, just enough to deal with what I need right now.

This isn't just a technology thing or a complaint about unnecessary features and over-engineered software. This "just in time knowledge" is actually how we learn most things. I'm not going to learn all about plumbing to deal with any potential household crises. I'll find out just what I need to know to fix my leaking shower, and deal with that. (Or, in reality, get someone to come over and fix my shower while I watch, so I'll know for next time. Thanks, Jon!)

Learning by throwing myself in at the deep end seems to work for me. It keeps me focused on results, and seems to improve my retention. I'd be interested to hear how others learn new skills.

Monday, October 25, 2010


This arrived in my inbox today. Since my friend Eddy explicitly says he's putting it in the public domain, here you go. Feel free to make this happen, share, repost, or whatever!
Lunch-time conversation with colleagues turned to the idiosyncracies of the Mac App-store's guidelines on acceptable content - and how to work round them.  Apparently depictions of violence against animals or people are out; but no mention of plants.  Nor are your enemies allowed to be any identifiable real-world cultural group; but apparently nothing prevents *your* side from being one.  So we concluded that you might be allowed a hyper-violent video game in which the enemy is a force of triffids and ents defending the forests from evil loggers who've hired you as a mercenary to fend off the mobile plants while the loggers go to work raping the rain-forests.  Since it's common "knowledge" that the nazis all ran away to hide out in South America, *our* side can safely be jack-booted thugs with hakkenkreutz insignia.  We just have to be careful not to have any of them being killed horribly; so the ents and triffids must be killing humanely, thereby further driving home the "you are on the side of evil" message.  Make it sufficiently over the top, I suspect it could actually be very popular, just for subverting all the silly censoriousness (not just Apple's) about violent video games.   Remembering that some on this list have contacts in the gaming industry, I hereby dedicate this silliness to the public domain.  As to this mail's subject: despite its similarity to the word "tree-hugger", especially when pronounced, it'd be more faithfully translated as lumberjack - or "tree-hacker".   Eddy. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chief Culture Officer

Chief Culture Officer, by Grant McCracken, pulls together the two diverse and yet interlinked strands of my life: anthropology and business. I studied social anthropology at Cambridge in the mid-80s, and ever since, I've wondered whether what I learned was pure self-indulgence (paid for by British tax-payers, because that was how we did things back then, and for which I've always been grateful) or the most totally useful thing in the world. I've always liked to believe that my knowledge of anthropology has underpinned everything else. It's not just that anthropology is the study of people and societies, but also that it teaches you how to study people, how to analyse them, and how to respond to them.

Over the last few years, I've finally noticed people claiming a role for anthropologists outside academia and National Geographic. In 2007, at a conference in Atlanta about virtual worlds and MMORPGs, I first heard people talking about how they needed anthropologists to understand the way online societies were evolving. WoW, Second Life and the like were no longer defined by their technology, but by the way the people interacted and the social mechanisms that the worlds facilitated - deliberately or accidentally. In 2008, at a reunion dinner in Cambridge, we had an extensive discussion in the anthropology department about the way technologies like Facebook, Skype, and mobiles phones are changing society and fundamental social mechanisms. Now, there's even someone who's doing a study of entrepreneurs and investors from an anthropological, rather than an economic perspective.

Chief Culture Officer puts the official seal on this trend by calling for companies to have an anthropologist at the very top level if they want to connect with their market. In effect, he's saying that without the understanding that anthropologists bring, companies can't create the products people want, or communicate in a language they understand. Written by an anthropologist from Chicago who studied under the great Marshall Sahlins (my personal hero in the anthropology world), and who has consulted extensively for mega-brands such as Coca-Cola, IKEA and Kraft, this book comes with some serious authority.

McCracken argues that companies need to understand culture in its wider sense. It's not just about what's "cool". Cool is destined to become passé overnight, and you can't rely on riding that wave forever. It's not about "high culture" like opera or art galleries. It's about a complex web of what people value, which affects not just their choice of music, clothing or beverages, but also sofas, curtains, washing machines, bread or Christmas presents for their mother in law. It's about understanding the shift towards reusable and recyclable goods in some communities, or when people want beige instead of this summer's fashion. It's about knowing when shopping is a necessity, and when it's a pleasure, and when it's entertainment, and how that affects what people want out of it. It's about knowing how people will react to a gimmick like making Coke vending machines charge an extra 10c in hot weather (they actually considered doing this, but rejected it on McCracken's advice) or changing a logo.

I have to say, I rather like this idea. It validates everything I've been saying for over 20 years. Big companies should be employing people like me, and giving us jobs at the highest level - with appropriately huge salaries, of course.
But then I got to thinking. It's all a utopian fantasy.

McCracken suggests that it's the CCO's job to know everything, from trends in music to food to clothes to tv to hobbies to hair dye products to anything else you can think of. Across the whole world, all demographics, all ages. He actually says it's the CCO's job to "know everything about everything." I call bullshit. You can't possibly know it all. I don't care how many magazines you read, how many Web sites you visit, how many people you follow on Twitter, or how many hours of TV you watch. The world's way too damn big. No matter how much I learn every day sitting at my computer, I'm never going to understand the LA Hispanic community, rural mid-West America, Chinese in New York, Thai communities in Florida, school kids in deprived black areas, to name but a few. And that's just in the USA. I haven't even started on Canada, South America, Europe, and so on.

And anyway, that's not how proper anthropology is done. Anthropologists work by focusing on one community, immersing themselves in it, understanding it, then focusing on another community, and contrasting them. They don't do a drive-by and then claim in-depth knowledge.

His anecdotes to show how the CCO achieves this omniscience are fallacious. For example, he talks about the trend towards artisan breads, and how they're taking a bite out of supermarket bakeries. He says that most people took a while to notice this, but a CCO would have spotted this trend starting in 1990. A classy bakery started in San Francisco (which he calls the first artisan bakery in the US, which I seriously doubt - weren't they doing it 100 years ago?), and by the end of the year, it was doing well. And on this basis, the CCO can predict a trend.

Again, I call bullshit with 20/20 hindsight. All you can tell is that this shop was doing well - you can't predict from a sample of one that this would spread to other bakeries, other cities, other communities. And even if you could, what's the likelihood that your CCO will know about that one shop, especially if he's based in Chicago or Seattle?

I liked some of his insights about culture, and I could certainly appreciate how this could help some companies, mostly the ones with huge amounts invested in their multi-billion dollar global brands. But in the end, it was like a typical academic paper - an appeal for funding. It came down to "I know stuff about people, and you need me, so let me define my own job title."

Frankly, companies really don't need yet another C-level guy swaggering around pontificating and pretending he knows everything about people and what the company strategy should be, from product design to pricing to advertising to hiring staff. Companies already have marketing departments, and it's their job to know their market. Sure, they can probably learn something from the way anthropologists work, but all that means is that an anthropology degree could be a solid foundation for a good career in marketing. Actually, many anthropologists could learn a lot from good market researchers.

And that, I suppose, explains why I enjoy the market research side of my job and loathe sales.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Only the super-rich can save us!

The world's pretty messed up right now. Everything's controlled by a few huge corporation who are to all intents and purposes above the law. Governments answer to the interests of big business. And big business answers to the interests of a few billionaires. The rest of us really don't matter a damn, and neither does the planet. Everything is sacrificed in the interests of profit.

So what can we do about it? Realistically, probably not a damn thing. We can elect different politicians, and within months, they'll be completely in thrall to the same old corporations. We can launch consumer protests and boycotts, but they have such a hold on every aspect of our way of life that it'll only work if we all go back to being self-sufficient pioneers, and that just ain't gonna happen.

In this book, Ralph Nader plays with an interesting idea. What if a bunch of super-rich people got together and decided to change things? Using the skills they've learned for manipulating governments, media, and economies, and their vast personal fortunes, they effectively launch a commercial revolution. They champion alternative energies, they challenge Wal-Mart's stranglehold over retail, they tackle healthcare billing fraud and insurance companies, and they fight the way that corporations buy politicians. As a Brit, I missed some of the political and commercial references, but enough came through to keep me hooked throughout. I also learned a lot from his use of real legal cases and legislation.

Nader's protagonists are all real billionaires or multi-millionaires; Warren Buffett, George Soros, Ross Perot, Ted Turner, Bill Cosby, Bill Gates Sr, Paul Newman, and Yoko Ono, for example. By contrast, most of their "opponents" are fictional: CEO Cumbersome, Edward Edifice, and so on. This gives the book a strange feeling. It keeps reminding you that Nader's talking about the real world, not some imaginary thriller conspiracy world, but at the same time, it's only fiction.

Now obviously, this is a satirical fantasy, and it's wildly utopian. Somehow, I don't think these guys are going to pledge their personal fortunes to save the world. However, it's an enjoyable book, and an easy read even though it's nearly 800 pages long. Nader's analysis of what's wrong with American society is insightful, and needs to be read.

For me, the best part was when he showed how overturning the corporations was not just within the spirit of the Constitution, but was also completely compatible with capitalism. Nader argues that what we have in the US isn't actually capitalism, it's state capitalism. The big corporations are backed by the state and supported by the state. The laws are written for their benefit. They pay lower taxes than smaller businesses or individual. They get huge handouts. They control the courts and the media. They get preferential treatment in every way. That's not free market competition. That's not capitalism. That's basically an economy based on state-sponsored monopolies - a classic hallmark of communist regimes.

Although I don't get to vote in this country*, I'm trying to get to grips with American politics. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the whole Republican/Democrat thing doesn't matter. They may chant different slogans, but in the end, they don't run the country. The corporations do. Whoever gets to Washington, it's the corporate lobbyists and their vast budgets who decide how Congress votes. They're happy as things are and can effectively block any changes that don't benefit them. And you don't get to vote for them. Worse, they have huge support because of their total control over big media. "What's good for business is good for America," they say. "If you damage our business, it'll cost jobs," they threaten. "We bring you cheap goods - what's the problem?" they ask. And so people nod and turn a blind eye to all the corruption, profiteering, and monopolistic abuse of power.

If you want to see real change in America, what's needed is to get rid of the unelected cartel that controls the government, and Nader makes this point eloquently, passionately, and with conviction.

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
Thomas Jefferson

*I can't vote because I'm a resident alien, not a US citizen. I could opt to become a US citizen in a couple of years, but I haven't decided whether that's something I want to do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Are you an entrepreneur? Managing a small software company? Thinking about getting into a start-up? Frustrated by the way your work/life balance is shot to hell?

Then get a copy of Rework, put it in your bathroom, and read a few pages every time you have a few moments. It's full of short, insightful essays, typically a page long, that add up to a different vision of how you can do business, and what a successful company can look like.

Some of it's pretty obvious advice. Meetings are toxic. Don't hire too many people too early. Love what you're doing or it'll show.

Some of it's slightly utopian, and only suitable for certain sorts of companies. Hire people who don't need managers and will just get on with whatever needs doing. It's OK for everyone to work from home, scattered round the world as long as they communicate online every day. Make sure you can do every job in the company yourself. Keep your product really simple.

Well, that's all fine if you're building a small software product, and you only need a few talented programmers to create it and refine it step by step. That doesn't always work so well if you're building a complex product that requires a lot of people working together. Or, come to that, opening a restaurant. Sometimes, you need a roomful of grunts and a manager just to get through the sheer volume of labour and ensure everyone's working effectively. And if they're highly specialised grunts, you can't really expect anyone else to be able to do their job. That, after all, is why you hired them.

However, there are some pieces in Rework that challenge orthodox business thinking, particularly in the modern tech start-up. These are the bits you need to read and think about. The five that stuck in my mind this time were:

Planning is guessing. No plan I have ever made for a business has come to reality. And, probably, neither have any of yours. All those optimistic budget forecasts, sales forecasts, hiring plans, release schedules, marketing plans - all bollocks. They looked impressive, and people signed up to them, but the truth is they were my best guess, nothing more, and they all turned out to be wrong. Hell, I can rarely even plan for what I'm going to do next week. Things change too fast in modern business. So, they advise, stop wasting your time making pointless plans, set some goals, and just do the damn job. Or, if you do have to make a plan, make sure you and everyone else knows they're only a guess.

Don't write down the procedures. Forget sheets of diagrams and documents explaining you do everything in the company. You won't stick to them anyway. A release checklist or similar, fine. But don't waste your time writing down stuff that either everyone knows, or which will be ignored in the heat of the moment.

Don't plan for an exit. This one's anathema to investors. After all, you only build a company so you can sell it, right? Well, that's one view of business. Alternatively, you could build a company that you can stick with for ever, and do it because you love it.

No to-do lists. Actually, I don't agree with this one. I'm a to-do list person. But I do like their suggestion not to waste time going through and prioritising everything 1, 2 or 3, and giving everything a target date, importance, and so on. Instead, just pick the most important thing, put it at the top of the list, and do that. Then, when you've gone as far as you can with that, pick the next most important thing, and do that.

Don't be a hero. If you're the guy working until 11pm every night, you're not doing anyone any favours. You're going to be tired and unproductive, and guilt-tripping your colleagues into working longer hours isn't going to endear you to anyone. More to the point, if what you're working on is really taking that much effort, then you should seriously consider whether you're going about it the right way.

The main themes of Rework are that in most companies we waste too much time on unnecessary management, and we'd all get a lot more done if we just got on with what was most important to delivering a great product to our customers. As I said, not all of this applies to everyone, but it should certainly get you thinking about how you and your company could work more efficiently, get more done, and spend less time doing it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day

Today's National Coming Out Day. I hadn't heard of this until I noticed many of my friends posting about it in their FB statuses. I was going to just cut'n'paste their standard phrases into my status, but figured I needed more than a couple of sentences.

First off, I really don't give a damn about other people's sexual orientation. Straight, gay, bi, bi-curious, celibate, transgender - it makes no difference to me whatsoever. I care about the people I like because of their personalities, and I'm more interested in talking to them and enjoying their company than what sort of genitalia they like their sexual partners to have.

Second, I don't see why same-sex couples shouldn't be allowed to marry. It's surely better than being trapped in a fake marriage and having affairs to satisfy your sexual inclination. At one point, shortly after it was legalised in England, I think I knew more gay married couples than straight married couples. They seem to be perfectly happy, and as much in love with each other as any straight couple. If anything, more so, because they have to endure much more to publicise their emotional commitment to each other. Okay, so most of them don't have kids, but then again, many of the straight couples I know don't have kids either.

Thirdly, to the religious among you, I have only this to say. Love is as close to a divine gift as any of us can expect to experience. If a person is truly in love with someone of the same sex, then obviously your God wants it that way, so you should give them your support. Whether they marry or not, you should let people be with the person they want to be with. It makes the world a better place.

Fourth, to anyone who believes that homosexuals or bisexuals shouldn't be allowed in the military, tell that to the Spartans. They're just as courageous, patriotic, and reliable as heterosexuals. Just because the guy you're sharing a barracks with is gay, it doesn't mean he fancies you. He's a soldier, doing the same job as you, and that's all that matters. "Don't ask, don't tell," is a pathetic policy. It's what we called in England the "Blackmailer's Charter", which basically meant that gay people were permanently under the power of anyone who knew their secret.

And lastly, to anyone who thinks it's acceptable to bully someone for being gay, or for being confused about their sexuality, particularly in their teenage years, it isn't. That makes you an intolerant bigot, and there's no place for you in my world.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's crap, but is it art?

A lot of my friends have been to see Exit Through the Gift Shop this week. I didn't go, largely because I'm not a fan of Banksy, or street art in general, but also because I decided to go to a different art show that evening, which I thoroughly enjoyed. After hearing their reports of the film, I'm really glad I didn't go. I think I'd have hated it.

This is nothing to do with the quality of the film. I haven't seen it, so I can't, and won't, comment. It's about the subject matter. It would have made me very angry, and I'd have left the cinema seething. I'm not sure if that was the emotional response they were after.

From what I can tell, the movie goes like this. A guy, Thierry Guetta, decides to make a movie about street art. Guetta shows his footage to Banksy, who tells him it's absolutely terrible, and suggests that he should try his hand at painting instead, while he (Banksy), despite having no film experience, will edit the footage into something watchable and finish the movie. So Guetta goes off and makes a load of equally terrible art, hires a warehouse in LA, and tells everyone that Banksy told him to be an artist. He hypes it like crazy, and suddenly his stuff is cool and he's an instant millionaire and the darling of the LA art set. The film ends with an embarrassed Banksy saying "I used to think anyone could do art. Now, I don't think like that."

Now, it's very likely that this wasn't a genuine documentary. I'd guess that Banksy set the whole thing up, just to take the piss out of the art world. Either way, though, the message of the film is the same.

Being a successful artist has nothing at all to do with talent. You can be absolutely terrible, but if you have the support of someone famous, you too can get rich and famous. People will buy your art, not because they like it, or even because they think it's cool, but because they think that other people will think they're cool for having it.

Even if it's another spectacular hoax, it's an insult to every talented, hard-working artist I know who's trying to get noticed. Don't bother going to art school, kids. Don't bother perfecting your craft. Don't even try to be original. Just do any old shit and get someone cool to back you, and you'll have people fighting over your work. It's Malcolm MacLaren and the Sex Pistols all over again.

No, that's nothing new, I know that. It's always been that way, and I'm not in the least surprised. But I wouldn't have enjoyed sitting in a cinema for an hour and a half having it rubbed in my face that talent is completely worthless, and the only thing that counts is having a Banksy on your side.

Don't let me stop you watching it. All my friends loved it. It was certainly thought-provoking, even without having seen it. But given that I spend much of my life trying to promote talented artists, the film's message is not one I personally want to hear.