12 things Brexit teaches us about management

12 things Brexit teaches us about management
29 March 2019

Anyone with an interest in managing organisations, projects, or teams, has the opportunity to learn useful lessons from Brexit.

Obviously, parliament and politics are not run like a company and cannot be run like a company. This article does not suggest they can be, nor is there a suggestion the points listed below could have been implemented under the circumstances of the time.

I’m using a few widely known Brexit observations to illustrate lessons that apply to running organisations. After all, it’s proven how much easier it is to remember a new piece of information if it ties in with something you are already familiar with.

Some of these lessons may even be a bit more fun because of the current political context.

My key 12 takeaways are:

1. Internal promotions because “no one else is available” seldomly work

Organisations often fall into the trap of promoting an internal candidate to a position that needs to be filled urgently. It appears to be the quickest and easiest solution, and it’s often justified based on knowing the internal candidate whereas any new candidate would represent an unknown. Never mind currying favours by giving a great job to someone you already know and receiving something in return.

This is done instead of advertising a position to see what talent might be available, and instead of running a competitive process in which the best candidates compete against each other until the winning candidate has been determined.

The problem is that in the heat of the moment and because of the intense desire to quickly show a solution to the challenge posed by the empty position, all too often (probably: in the vast majority of cases) less than suitable candidates are picked. Wishful thinking about a person’s ability to step up to a different job often eventually collides with the reality of that person’s skills.

Case in point, Theresa May.

In June 2016, David Cameron had stepped down unexpectedly, and backstabbing in the Tory party killed off the obvious candidates to succeed him. An entirely new (s)election on short notice wasn’t deemed a possibility, so SOMEONE from inside the existing government was picked to quickly fill the vacant position of Prime Minister.

May had been Home Secretary up to that point – a classic case of an internal promotion.

Among her high-profile efforts for the Home Office had been her target for limiting net immigration to the UK to no more than 99,999 new arrivals per year (“tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands”). This target had been promised by David Cameron as part of his 2010 election campaign. Immigration is also the first responsibility listed on the Home Office website, so this was a weighty promise for May to take over when she took the position. This became one of her most widely known areas of work, and one where the outcome was relatively easy to determine given it was about achieving an objective, measurable result.

Whether this target made sense or not is another question. Here are the hard numbers for how she had performed:

Year Target Actual net immigration Target missed by factor of
2010
99,999 or less
256,000
2.56
2011 99,999 or less
205,000
2.05
2012 99,999 or less
177,000
1.77
2013 99,999 or less
209,000
2.09
2014 99,999 or less
313,000
3.13
2015 99,999 or less
332,000
3.32
2016 99,999 or less 248,000 2.48

Source: Office for National Statistics (UK)

During the seven years during which she was Home Secretary for at least some part of the year (she was appointed in May 2010 and left the post in June 2016), Theresa May:

  • Missed her target every single year.
  • Missed her target by an average of 2.48 times the target number.
  • The last two years (2014-15) during which she occupied the post for the entire twelve months period also brought the worst failure (i.e., “finish on a low”).

The change she achieved compared to the era before she became Home Secretary was not even zero, it was worse than zero. The situation worsened instead of improving. She had objectively failed on the one major campaign manifesto that she was associated with. In any kind of responsibly run organisation would have probably been laid off no later than year three. The metrics look even worse depending on how you define the stated goal of getting net immigration down to the “tens of thousands” (which many thought implied considerably less than 100,000).

Another widely known aspect of her political career was her backing of the Remain campaign, which lost the vote despite the tremendous support it received from the sitting government and from the entire government apparatus. Being part of the team that loses despite massively outsized access to resources must count as a double-loss.

I could add further aspects, but the point is clear. This was not a woman renowned for producing outstanding results, and her role in the most decisive issue had been to back the losing side. In the Home Office, she had ONE metric to achieve, but she couldn’t even get this one thing done. If she had applied for a job in an organisation focussed on results, would she have even made it past the first smell test of CVs?

The damage done by choosing the easy-but-unsuitable internal candidate is a multiple of the cost that a proper selection process would have caused.

BUT… In a situation where someone was needed urgently to fill an empty position, she was among the best who were available. Running a proper selection process seemed like an immense burden at the time, which is why it wasn’t done.

Fast forward three years, and you have a result all too usual in such situations. There are few, on either side of the argument, who wouldn’t agree May has failed spectacularly.

The damage done by choosing the easy-but-unsuitable internal candidate is a multiple of the cost that a proper selection process would have caused. Seeing such a short-term gain leading to a lot of long-term pain is something I have already witnessed way too many times elsewhere.

If you wanted to avoid one common mistake in managing an organisation’s staff, don’t let yourself be pressured into accepting a less than optimal internal candidate because you felt it was an easy way out of your staffing predicament.

Always, always, always run a competitive process to establish which candidates exist elsewhere, and who of them is the best for your needs.

No excuses, no exceptions.

2. Zero-basing staff sometimes is often the only way out of a deep crisis

When organisations are going through periods of extraordinary crisis or change, managers should consider “zero-basing” the staff.

That’s another word for doing away with (almost) all existing staff, and rebuilding an organisation’s staffing from (almost) scratch.

Obviously, that’s easier said than done. However, I have been involved in several cases where, in retrospect, the faster, cheaper and more effective way to restructure an organisation in deep crisis or required some other form of massive change, would have been to:

  • Lay off (or temporarily send home) at least 90% of the staff.
  • Close down the organisation for one or two weeks to take stock of everything. If it’s possible at all, do it at a time that minimises disruption, e.g., including a bank holiday weekend or during a low season of that business.
  • After that, rebuild the team from (almost) zero (hence the term “zero-based”) and give both the organisation and the team a fresh start. Make only a handful of exceptions, e.g., always retain one person who is an institutional memory.

In Britain’s Parliament post the referendum you had an extraordinary situation in terms of staffing.

  • 75% of existing MPs were self-proclaimed Remainers, as per what they had stated in the run-up of the referendum (486 Remain-MPs; 160 Leave-MPs).
  • The majority mandate by the British people was to leave (75% of Tory constituencies and 60% of Labour constituencies voted Leave).

Was this ever going to work well?

Leading an organisation in one direction if three quarters (!) of staff passionately believe another direction is the only way to go is a recipe for disaster. Internal resistance – a.k.a. sabotage through ill-willed inertia and similar – is likely to prevent the organisation from ever reaching its ultimate goal.

After all the lessons I have learned with cases like this in the past, the ONE condition I would set today if I were to ever take on another job as CEO of a crisis-ridden organisation, would be the board’s prior agreement to zero-base the staff either during the first days in office or within the first 100 days.

Without that, I will not go into another extreme restructuring case, full stop. You will almost inevitably come to a point where the internal resistance you didn’t weed out at the start is turning into such a powerful obstacle that your entire mission will fail.

I speak from painful experience since I have seen this first-hand not once, but twice. I have also been involved one case where it was done properly, and it led to (fairly spectacular) success of ten times growth during the following years. The other two have become tragic cases where the lack of a proper rebooting of the entire system eventually caught up with the organisation.

Don’t fall into the same trap. If ever you face such a restructuring, do it properly or walk away. If you are facing a board that doesn’t get this or that feels this is too drastic, then you are likely facing a board that will fail in its endeavours (I mention this because board members, in particular, tend to be very resistant to this sort of drastic measure).

3. Negotiating skills are under-rated

In one of my recent columns, I wrote about the negotiating skills that I wish someone had taught me at school. It was one of the five most popular articles I have published on this website and seems to have struck a nerve.

Both Brexit and its American equivalent, Trump, have brought a lot of attention to the entire field of negotiating, and how it’s actually a professional skill that needs to be studied and acquired over a long period.

Trump created a lot of awareness for the negotiating tactic of starting any ask with an ambitious (if not outrageous) opening gambit. This is done to “anchor” the subsequent conversation in a position that is advantageous to yourself. Anchoring is done with the notion in mind that in negotiations you can always go down but never up. But you’ll only agree to go down if the other party gives you something in return, and you establish that from the outset.

Theresa May and Brexit have brought a lot of attention to what happens in negotiations if you aren’t willing and/or able to stand up and leave the negotiating table. She’s also an example of not starting with an ambitious ask. The EU, on the other hand, did start with an ambitious ask – to be precise, the outrageous sum of £100 billion.

As described above, the Brexit process was directed by a leader who had a track record of failure and of backing the wrong side, besides not believing in the cause. It was also dependent on a parliament that in the vast majority consisted of members whose personal beliefs, based on their own previous disclosures, were diametrically opposed to the mandate they had been given.

Would such a negotiating party ever seriously threaten to get up and walk away from it all? In other words, were they ever likely to pursue “no deal” and use this as the single strongest negotiating position that was available to them?

Of course, this was never going to happen. I know one professional negotiator – who managed 27 kidnap hostage situations in Latin America – who analysed May’s negotiating. He concluded that May never negotiated to achieve a calm and measured exit from the EU. She actually and egregiously broke all established rules for negotiating.

He concluded that she and her confidential negotiator, a senior civil servant who had no official capacity, never intended to negotiate with the EU, and that their aim from the start was to negotiate on behalf of the EU with the British people. Interestingly, he is not alone. By now, according to at least one recent survey, 38% of Remain voters and 87% of Leave voters believe that May negotiated on behalf of the EU.

For the EU, walking all over the official troupe of British “negotiators” was a walk in the park. Never mind the very practical aspect that May simply had never been trained professionally in negotiating, nor was Westminster likely to have the world’s best negotiators sitting in its civil service (and offers received from proven negotiators who wanted to help were turned down).

Getting into a particular position in an organisation or having great opportunities appear in front of your business is one thing, and it can happen purely based on your being in the right place at the right time (see point 1 – May got lucky). Whether you thrive and succeed, however, is also down to you possessing the right negotiating skills. A lack of vital skills usually catches up with you at some point.

If you are building a business or running an organisation of some kind, investing in your negotiating expertise is a skill whose importance I believe you cannot over-estimate.

4. Reading body language is another under-rated but important skill

No one doubts that much communication is non-verbal. Some experts claim it’s up to 93% of all communication, split between 55% body language and 38% tone of voice.

However, reading body language also isn’t a skill you are likely to have been taught.

Everyone has some skills for reading body language – for example the number one most widely understood body language sign is crossed arms. It’s the classic sign for defensiveness, which depending on the circumstances could mean disagreeing with the arguments, or feeling awkward and lacking self-confidence. Most anyone instinctively recognises this body language sign when they see it.

Thanks to the miraculous invention called the Internet, it’s nowadays so much easier to gradually teach yourself at least some awareness of the subject, if not even the actual skill itself.

I have no doubt that being better at “reading” people will help me in my work and my business. I also have no doubt that becoming reasonably good at this skill takes at least one or two years of regular studying. I regret not having started this twenty years ago.

One particular website I’ve started to appreciate over the past months is that of the (anonymous) Body Language Ghost. A female body language interpreter regularly posts videos interpreting the body language of well-known characters from politics, media, and other areas of life that happen to be the subject of news reporting at that time. Her interpretations get in the hundreds of thousands of views and in one instance racked up 3.6m views. She’s currently on baby leave, and she choses to remain anonymous and not publish her credentials because of the fear of threats.

Having regularly watched some of her work for some time and seeing how events subsequently played out, I’m convinced she’s pretty darn good at using her skill to interpret people and predict how genuine they are, what aspects they may be trying to cover up, or which way their actions are going to go.

An excellent example in the context of this article is this 7-minute body language interpretation of Theresa May’s speech dating 18 November 2018.

I was always aware of the subject, as is most anyone else. Because of the times we are living through and the opportunities the Internet offers to anyone who wants to learn new skills, I have recently started to study this subject more actively.

I have no doubt that being better at “reading” people will help me in my work and my business. I also have no doubt that becoming reasonably good at this skill takes at least one or two years of regular studying. I regret not having started this twenty years ago.

Brexit is a wonderfully strong and evocative example to make this point, because there is now a three-year history of a leader who so evidently did not mean what came out of her mouth. In Parliament, she stated no less than 108 times: “Britain will leave the EU on 29 March 2019.” Her body language gave away from the outset that she didn’t mean it. If you had followed body language interpretations of Theresa May, you would have had additional warnings about what was to come the country’s way.

YouTube channel body language

The YouTube channel of “Body Language Ghost” is a treasure trove for you to dip into and learn from

5. At any time, there are new opportunities in digital media you can exploit for your business

I was an early member and backer of the Leave.EU campaign, which was one of the seven official, separately managed Leave campaigns. It became famous for quickly growing to a massive online following, and it utilised digital media in a way unlike any political campaign had done before in the UK.

The Internet is now three decades old, and one could easily think that it has reached a level of maturity where most niches and opportunities have already been occupied and exploited by someone else. This is very far from being the case.

I first posted about the Leave.EU social media campaign on my own social media profiles when the movement was just a few weeks old and had barely appeared on anyone’s radar screen. My comments of the time were to watch out for this one, and these were ridiculed by some of my followers. They couldn’t imagine that someone might have found a digital media growth opportunity that was unlike anything else they had witnessed up to this point.

Most people lack the vision to see anything that hasn’t already been done by someone. Which doesn’t mean these opportunities don’t exist, they are merely well hidden.

I witnessed first-hand how Leave.EU identified areas of under-utilised potential on the Internet and then combined it with an acute understanding of the changing Zeitgeist as well as stringent management and proper resourcing. The result was staggering growth and great effectiveness. In the final weeks of the referendum campaign, the Leave.EU channels regularly reached between 15m and 20m voters, and the right ones. That’s greater firepower than that of any mainstream media outlet and it came within a short 18 months of that organisation getting started.

Following the (real and cooked-up) scandals that social media has suffered over the past few years, the same wouldn’t be possible today. During the past few years a lot of changes have taken place in the social media space. These include new regulations, censorship, changed pricing, and a raft of other factors. The same thing that worked on the Internet last year or during the past few years is seldom going to be the big winner during next year and even less so during the next five years.

To be successful in utilising the Internet to your organisation’s advantage you always need to be one step ahead of the game and do something NEW. Which, because of the nature of anything new, does not come with an instruction manual or a guarantee it will work.

But that doesn’t mean that opportunity isn’t to be found anymore. Your organisation just needs to look elsewhere or do things differently, and take some calculated risks.

For example, following Brexit (and the Trump election), a significant part of the population is more frustrated than ever about the performance of what could best be described as “mainstream media” (a broad term but for the purpose of making the point accurate enough).

This frustration has led to rapidly growing interest in Internet channels that offer a different take on things than you can predominantly find in the mainstream media. If your organisation finds an angle of how to exploit this new interest – and there are a virtually limitless number of angles how to make use of this – then there are some incredible growth opportunities there for your taking right now.

In a few years, these will also have been exploited by someone, or they might have vanished for any number of other reasons. Growth will then move on to yet another area, in ways we probably can’t even imagine.

Take that as an inspiration for planning, experimenting, and dreaming on a similar scale.You are among the first people in human history who have a tool available that lets you reach a global audience of 3 billion people at virtually no incremental cost.

How can you take concrete, feasible steps to start exploiting this ongoing evolution of the digital media opportunity to your advantage?

If your organisation isn’t already doing it, I would advise that it sets aside some time and brainpower to:

  • Determine which publications, books or channels one or two dedicated person(s) in your organisation should follow in order to develop a sense for the changing world of digital media.
  • Regularly discuss and review internally, involving other members of the team, what you could do differently in terms of utilising digital media to unlock additional potential.
  • Have a management team or committee empowered to occasionally do something involving digital media that may be daring, ahead-of-the-curve, or out-of-the-box, but which could yield tremendous results if it works.

I have another real-life example. Together with a colleague, I once implemented an outrageous, “scandalous” social media post at an organisation where I was the CEO at the time, the Charles Darwin Foundation. I had to do so because the organisation (and its management) were boxed into a corner, and a disruptive step was necessary to free up the entire situation. The post gave my board members heart palpitations and sleepless nights, and they wanted to take it down, which I blocked by being on an airplane trip while it went viral. It led to the single most successful short-term fundraising campaign in the organisation’s history. Its different strands mobilised $1.8m in less than four months and generated publicity around the world, including in publications such as the Economist and the Washington Post. (It also contributed significantly to my getting fired a few months later by a weak, out-of-date board of trustees, but that’s summarised in another article).

Whether you like it or not, the course of the world has changed permanently and significantly because a few individuals – such as Leave.EU’s founder, Arron Banks, and Donald Trump in collaboration with Jared Kushner– have spent time thinking about new ways to utilise digital media to their advantage.

Take that as an inspiration for planning, experimenting, and dreaming on a similar scale.You are among the first people in human history who have a tool available that lets you reach a global audience of 3 billion people at virtually no incremental cost.

You’ll certainly never get there if you only follow trodden paths instead of trying to think of the – inevitable – next wave of innovation you could adopt early.

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6. Mastering the dark art of “linguistic killshots” can be useful for some managers

Depending on which position and industry you are in, learning about linguistic killshots may or may not be extremely valuable for you. It ties in with the previous point about using digital media in new ways.

This is a term that, to the best of my knowledge, entered the world during the 2016 US Presidential election. However, as I will show you, it also applied to the Brexit campaign and its aftermath. Having myself been on the receiving end of an effective linguistic killshot, I have learned how powerful it can be. It’s a “dark art” I’m keen to have in my skillset for the rare occasion where it might come in handy (similar to carrying a means for self-defence when you are in a dangerous place such as today’s crime-ridden London).

A linguistic killshot describes a short set of words used to describe someone (or something) and aimed at ending an argument decisively.

The most famous such term is, without doubt, the term: “Crooked Hillary.”

Linguistic killshots are powerful because:

  • They imprint a label that you already feel about these people.
  • They are sticky, that is, you can never get them out of your mind.
  • They are big, visual arguments that drown out all other facts.

I have started to appreciate the power of linguistic killshots because the term “Brexiteer”, applied to anyone who is in favour of Brexit, has effectively become one, too.

As the “Cambridge History of the English Language” states, the French suffix -eer, with few exceptions, has mostly taken on a derogatory meaning, for example “buccaneers” and “privateers”. Consequently, calling someone a Brexiteer conveys connotations of excessive risk-taking, illegality, and a bad ending.

The origin of the term is somewhat unclear, though ironically it might even go back to a Brexit-supporting academic who thought this term was a bright idea. What is more evident, however, is that it was eventually widely adopted as a means to describe Brexit supporters in a derogatory way because of the natural association it evokes in the overly risk-averse.

Hats off to the Remain camp for turning this term into something at least very closely resembling a linguistic killshot. All efforts to create an equivalent to describe people on the Remain side didn’t get anywhere near the effectiveness of the term Brexiteer. The term Remoaner and Remainiac were nice tries, but didn’t tick all the boxes of an effective linguistic killshot.

The closest similar success the Leave side achieved, was the referendum slogan: “Take back control.” The Remain side failed in creating anything even remotely as effective and memorable as this slogan.

A variation of linguistic killshots are images that effectively do the same. These are harder to find, though there is one good example from the aftermath of the referendum and in the context of Theresa May’s performance. Whenever foreign friends ask me about Brexit, I show them the (in)famous photo of May campaigning for Remain. It evokes immediate, clear and strong reactions of precisely the kind I desire. Everyone immediately gets why the majority of surveyed Leavers have come to believe May negotiated in bad faith.

Theresa May

Would you trust this woman to lead and negotiate the Brexit process? (Sourced on Twitter: If it was you who shot it, let me take you out for a beer!)

A key lesson from all this is that very few words (or one powerful image) if applied in the right way, can have a potent effect.

Educating yourself about linguistic killshots is probably best done through reading or following Scott Adams, the creator of “Dilbert”. Adams, who is a trained hypnotist and persuasion expert, popularised the term linguistic killshot and he has written and spoken about it extensively in his recent book, on his blog, and in the almost daily YouTube videos he puts out. He also correctly predicted – very early in the campaign – the election triumph of Trump, based on what he believed was Trump’s unique talent stack in persuasion.

Adams’ regular interpretation of current news leads right over to the next point…

7. If you don’t follow “alternative news sources”, you’ll miss important aspects that could help you better manage your organisation

Maybe your organisation doesn’t require you to use digital media to put your message out. There could still be a strong case for at least *consuming* digital media in new ways, as part of your efforts to prepare successfully for managing your challenges.

Brexit became a case-study of much of the “mainstream media” getting the entire situation wrong and their analysis not even remotely foreseeing the actual result. On the day before the referendum most British mainstream media outlets predicted a clear win for the Remain campaign, mostly by a margin of 5% to 10%. (If you are an American reader, your local equivalent is, of course, the New York Times’ eternally infamous 8 November 2016 prediction that Hillary Clinton was 91% sure to win the election.)

On the other hand, even back then, there were some niche organisations that did have a much better reading of the actual state of the land and the likely outcome. Only, these didn’t come with venerable brand names like “The New York Times,” nor were they likely to have had a flashy office, state-of-the-art websites, or polished messaging. Many would have turned up their nose at them because of these alternative news sources’ outward appearance, but that was their loss.

Britain’s prime example is “Guido Fawkes” a political blog and alternative news website that would have given you a much better reading of the Brexit situation if you had followed it in the time leading up to the referendum. For all the undoubted imperfections of the website and its authors, the information offered by Guido Fawkes often beat the mainstream media in a variety of ways. This included scoops that no one else offered (e.g., he uncovered the online death threats made against Theresa May by the woman who started the recent “Revoke Article 50” online petition), a more accurate reading of the actual situation in Westminster or among the electorate, and pointing out little-known but relevant facts that other publications for one reason or another didn’t publish.

Does Guido’s website look like a late-1990s car crash, and does its readership to this day remain relatively small with just a few hundred thousand readers per week? It sure does.

Ignoring such alternative media sources is now definitely done at your own peril.

However, it has also been named the number 1 political blog Members of Parliament like to follow. An incredible 28% of all British Members of Parliament surveyed by the Press Gazette rated Guido Fawkes their favourite political blog, followed by a far-distant Huffington Post (owned by the $250bn communication company, Verizon) with just 7% of the votes.

If current politics affect your organisation (and who isn’t affected by politics these days?), can you afford not to follow the source over a quarter of your country’s members of parliament identify as their favourite political blog by far?

I know many people who disdain news organisations that only exists in the form of a poorly designed blog. Ignoring such alternative media sources is now definitely done at your own peril.

Obviously, depending on your organisational needs, you’ll have to follow different sources. Guido Fawkes is just one example, but because of everything Brexit came to be it’s wonderfully illustrative.

Depending on your organisational needs and your industry, there will be other sources relevant for you. However, I have long concluded that I pity anyone who solely lives in a world of “safe” mainstream media. Because of my reading a broad spectrum of sources – covering the entire range from socialist newsletters and The Guardian on one side, to prepper blogs and Infowars on the other hand – I was convinced Brexit and Trump were likely to win.

It’s better to explore the full scope of information available to us, and this includes exploring a rapidly changing media landscape driven by entrepreneurs who identify information needs large companies cannot or do not want to serve.

8. Incrementalism works (and perseverance is under-rated)

Incrementalism is the belief that by adding to a project using many small incremental changes instead of a few extensively planned large jumps, you will have a higher chance of achieving your goal.

Both Leavers and Remainers will easily see evidence why incrementalism is such a powerful tool to utilise for yourself in managing whatever it is you are aiming to achieve.

In the time after the referendum, neither side could have possibly made a massive leap forward very quickly. No matter how good anyone’s planning was, life puts so many obstacles, complications, and surprises in your way. Making one small step forward at a time is usually the only way to get anything done at all. Which, as you will probably have experienced yourself at some stage in your life, can feel incredibly slow and frustrating.

Fast forward more than 1,000 days of incrementalism applied to politics, and both sides can rightly claim to have achieved incredible success.

Making one small step forward at a time is usually the only way to get anything done at all

Here are just some examples, written for both sides of the spectrum because both sides have been successful in some ways.

Remainers

  • Preventing Brexit altogether is now more likely than ever.
  • The one “deal” on the table at the time of publishing this article is Brexit-in-name-only, meaning even if Brexit took place, it would be a form of continuing membership.
  • The political establishment has proven that if it doesn’t want something from happening it can utilise the vast state bureaucracy to destroy dissent, e.g., through unleashing costly, damaging investigations on those who have a different viewpoint.

In the UK, one such step involved weaponizing the tax authority to specifically target Brexit campaign donors.

The equivalent for the US is, of course, the Russia Hoax investigation. Efforts to challenge this weaponization of “neutral” civil service resources were successfully scuppered. Britain has been turned into a country where anyone will now think twice whether to stand up against “the system”. The Westminster establishment has successfully secured its position against interference by unwelcome outsiders. Proponents of big, powerful state bureaucracies – which Remain supporters almost inevitably are – will find this an exhilarating result and a huge success.

I don’t like these particular achievements, but from the perspective of Remainers they are tremendous achievements on the back of continually hammering away on their goals.

Leavers:

  • Subjects many interest groups had worked hard to keep out of the public discussion through speech control (so-called “political correctness”), such as unmanaged mass immigration or national sovereignty, have become a matter of daily conversation. Britain’s Overton Window, which describes the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse, has definitely been moved.
  • The constant exposing of the Westminster elite’s conniving to prevent or water down Brexit will have only strengthened the resolve of many millions of Britons who had a hunch – and now see concrete evidence – that their votes are effectively worthless if they vote the “wrong” way. A larger number of Britons than ever before believe they live in a uniparty system, and the first signs of “independent” political movements are already visible. There will now be ongoing, long-term pressure to change significant aspects of the entire political system, and this is likely to take twists and turns no one can foresee.
  • The EU’s efforts to overturn or water down the referendum’s results can forever be utilised as ultimate evidence for the undemocratic nature of the EU. The Brexit campaign has made the flaws of the EU a permanent subject of public awareness.

These are huge advances for both sides. None could have been achieved overnight, and all of them required many small steps to be taken. I doubt either side could claim any form of victory at this stage, but that doesn’t diminish how impressive these achievements are.

When observed on a day-to-day basis, many of the steps taken in these regards didn’t look like much. But over 1,000 days, they have come to amount to chunky advances of the respective causes and movements. A lot can be done in 1,000 days if you work on it every single day.

The big lessons for everyone are that if you want to achieve something on a grand scale, you have to a chip away on it every single day, for many days on end, and without getting distracted by weekends or holidays. It will be slow, it will be frustrating, but eventually it will amount to a big leap forward. Always be prepared for a rough ride that seems never to end (though one day, it will).

Put simply, perseverance is everything.

9. Everything takes twice as long as you think it does (but there are exceptions)

Tying in with the previous point, most anything you will ever attempt in life will take two or three times as long as you think it will. If not even longer.

Brexit is a case in point.

For Remainers keen on preventing Brexit, winding it back, or diluting it, there can be no certainty regarding the course of events of the next few years. The only certainty for them is that their continued efforts will be required. The forces at work on the opposing side are now so vast that no single potential outcome will see this issue bottled for good.

Leavers, in turn, will find the opposition to respecting their majority vote is so strong and has taken such unexpected forms that their struggle will also likely continue for a few (possibly, many) more years. Even if Britain was to leave the EU with no deal, the forces trying to get Britain to re-join or otherwise gradually erode the result will continue.

Work dragging on for much longer than anticipated initially is one of those facts in life that will never go away. That is unless you are REALLY good at managing, and assuming you have the necessary life experience to plan for the fastest possible outcome and you have chosen a field that lends itself to disprove the rule.

E.g., Reid Hoffmann, the founder of LinkedIn, recently published a book called “Blitzscaling”, dealing with the “lightning-fast path” to building and growing organisations.

Also, there are clever books aimed at helping you achieve more in a very short time. I particularly like the book “The 12 Week Year: Get more done in 12 weeks than others do in 12 months.”, and I even once wrote an article about it.

Work dragging on for much longer than anticipated initially is one of those facts in life that will never go away. That is unless you are REALLY good at managing, and assuming you have the necessary life experience to plan for the fastest possible outcome and you have chosen a field that lends itself to disprove the rule.

There are ways how to achieve a lot in a very short time. However, this requires not just expertise and will, but also the ability (and willingness) to choose your battlefield wisely. Some locations (or industries) are more conducive to advancing quickly, than others.

Which takes me to my next point….

10. “Jurisdiction Shopping” is becoming ever more important

Recent events in Britain and the EU have made it more evident than ever that there is a lot to be said in favour of carefully picking which jurisdiction you work and base yourself in.

I could not run my businesses without unfettered access to news from around the world. For my investment website, www.undervalued-shares.com, I regularly need to check local and regional newspapers from around the world to complete my research about companies located in these places. Regional and local newspapers are quite often a particularly valuable source of information I couldn’t do without. If you want to read gossip about the CEO’s private life, local news outlets are the place to check.

However, because of the EU’s so-called General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) introduced in May 2018, more than a thousand US newspapers are not available to European readers anymore. Of the 1,381 US newspapers tracked by one website dedicated to this purpose, 1,129 (82%) remain blocked for readers in the EU. Which, when I want to research a company in the US, makes my life pretty difficult (it’d require me to create a VPN, and why would I accept having to do such a thing merely to read the news?). If I lived in the EU my work would become less competitive because powerful people in Brussels have erected a sort of digital Chinese Wall that prevents me from accessing vast troves of information.

The Brexit discussion has generated a lot of awareness about the growing problem of regulation and new forms of censorship. Ever more such measures are put in place to restrict access to and awareness of information – incrementalism at its best.

Politicians and media companies that have strong political leanings have gotten away with restricting information through a broad variety of means without too many people hitting the street over it. No doubt, the authorities now feel empowered to push the envelope further. In the EU zone, in particular, censorship and regulation of the web are going to go into overdrive mode over the coming years. Continental Western Europe does not have the deeply rooted belief in free speech historically and culturally prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon world – although now under serious and sustained attack in Britain. This week’s approval of the infamous Article 11 and Article 13 legislation in the European parliament is another such step, but it certainly won’t be the last one.

This left me with having to base myself primarily in a jurisdiction where such a problem doesn’t exist, and I now spend the most significant part of my time in the Channel Islands, which are not part of the UK and thus managed to avoid being part of the EU. Back in 1973 the Channel Islands said “No” to the EU, and the islands have stayed well clear of surrendering their unique degree of sovereignty to the powers in Brussels. During recent years, the Channel Islands have actually been increasing their degree of sovereignty.

Checking which location offers you the best condition for working and living according to your preferences and needs is called “jurisdiction shopping”.

It’s a term that used to be applied by the super-rich when it came to selecting the place of their tax residence. With all the changes now happening in Brexit-era Britain and other parts of the world, and given how much easier it is nowadays to relocate to a different place, the term has taken on a much broader meaning. You can go jurisdiction shopping for any number of reasons.

All the events that followed Brexit have made the need for jurisdiction shopping more visible, and many of the developments that followed the 24 June 2016 referendum have made it a more important possibility.

Have you thought about which jurisdiction offers your plans and needs the best possible environment?

Checking which location offers you the best condition for working and living according to your preferences and needs is called “jurisdiction shopping”.

If you haven’t yet, then it might be high time to have a careful think about it. Companies, too, sometimes move across borders because they are spotting better conditions for their activities elsewhere. The world is your oyster, unlike ever before in human world history.

Q10 interview Marco Wutzer

Last week’s article also dealt with this subject, in case you want to read more about it.

11. Standing up for what you believe in pays off

Being open and vocal about my support for the 2016 Brexit campaign led to losing a significant number of “friends”, including my longest-standing friend in London who “unfriended” me both on Facebook and in the real world. Countless others followed.

It hurt at the time, but in the meantime not letting others bully me because of my beliefs and convictions has turned into a valuable asset.

I didn’t fully realise it at the time, but standing my ground has led to a whole number of developments beneficial to my business, my career, and my future prospects:

  • Any adverse situation in life that helps you become a bit tougher than you were before should be welcomed. Learn to embrace them and see them as a gift. Once you have been through a few of them, nothing much will faze you anymore. On the contrary, you stop worrying and instead focus on how you can use them to your advantage. This is a very useful and valuable mindset for an organisation’s leader to have.
  • Times change, and who you want to or need to spend time with will vary throughout your life. If people who are not the right ones for the current part of your life leave out of their own decision, it can actually be a blessing. At the risk of being a bit philosophical, it frees up space for new, more suitable people to enter your life.
  • Learning how to defend your position when you are in a (perceived) minority or even fringe group, will improve your ability to deal with the inevitable challenges you get when pushing the envelope in your organisation (see point 6).

This is a soft point, and borders on stating the obvious. However, the unprecedented hostility that Leavers received from Remainers truly drove home this point. The era of Brexit will likely forever remain my yardstick when it comes to standing your ground under challenging circumstances, and what you can gain from doing so.

12. “Never give up control”

The jury is still out whether Theresa May’s handling of Brexit was incompetence (as most Remainers suspect), or wilful treason coordinated with her buddies in the EU (as the majority of Leavers has come to suspect).

My view is that much of this mess could have been prevented if Britain had a political class able to listen, lead, and innovate. I don’t see these skills in the country’s political class, with very few exceptions such as the inimitable Jacob Rees-Mogg. For the 2020s I expect an ongoing and massive backlash from large parts of the voting population against conventional “career politicians” of all orientations, and across much of the Western world.

Not everyone will agree with this assessment and only time will tell. However, no matter which side of the argument you are on, there are lots of useful lessons to be learned when it comes how to do things as well as how NOT to do things.

Which leads me to my last point, a variation of the Leave campaign’s “Take back control” slogan.

Efforts to manage something are most likely to be successful when you have the strongest possible control over the outcome.

On a personal level, I can only advise generally arranging your job, your business and your life in such a way that you can control them to the highest possible degree.

Not everything can be controlled and life throws you all sorts of curve-balls. But for as long as you do keep, take and protect control of those aspects that can be controlled, you are more likely to achieve your desired outcomes, whatever they may be.

Efforts to manage something are most likely to be successful when you have the strongest possible control over the outcome.

One of the lessons I have learned, and which has only been reinforced by what I witnessed throughout the Brexit referendum and its aftermath, is to set time aside regularly to think about how to best keep control of matters that concern you.

Once you have given up, surrendered or lost control, others will take advantage of you, or outcompete you. You will then see winning back control is no easy matter – as Britons who were part of the majority vote to leave the EU are also just vividly experiencing.

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