OMG! I think I’m a female entrepreneur


The Centre for Entrepreneurs (of which I am deputy chairman) and Barclays Bank recently launched a report on female entrepreneurs. Called “Shattering Stereotypes”, the aim was to use surveys and empirical data to undermine our perceived ideas (and even prejudices) regarding women as owners of start-up companies. This it did admirably – noting that women entrepreneurs were on average younger than their male counterparts (challenging the “mumpreneur” image). They also paid themselves higher salaries. However, the report also reinforced some “typical” female entrepreneur traits – such as their more cautious attitude to risk and debt and their desire to put sustainability ahead of break-neck growth.

In fact, hearing the report’s findings being presented at the Legatum Institute in Monday evening I sat there somewhat surprised: not least because I concluded that I’m a female entrepreneur. Yes, that’s right: in terms of my attitudes towards risk, debt and sustainability, I possess more-typically female – rather than typically-male – entrepreneurial attitudes and qualities.

Rather than check my gender, so to speak, this had me wondering whether there was something else going on. Was it, perhaps, to do with a type of person (rather than a gender) that – nonetheless – has a statistical bias towards females and particularly female entrepreneurs, although is not an exclusively female trait?

Yes, you guessed it, as the author of The Outside Edge, I’m wondering whether it’s outsiders that are being revealed by the analysis – the notion that, by feeling like an imposter, we’re bound to behave differently: perhaps by being a little more cautious. A little less gung-ho. Feeling more vulnerable (especially to external forces), perhaps we’re keen to sustain our position rather than abandon any caution in favour of a “screw it let’s do it” bravado. We might also be less willing – and certainly less able – to take on debt.

Well-cited research shows that females in business are far more likely to struggle with “imposter syndrome” than men – the notion that (no matter what their qualifications) they cannot shake the thought that they somehow don’t belong. They’re an illegitimate presence in the meeting/pitch/boardroom, they think – a phenomenon first discovered in professional women by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes (although later expanded to include anyone discomforted within their peer group despite being there on merit).

Almost by definition, outsiders feel like imposters. We’re inevitably alienated from situations involving group norms, which has a significant impact on our attitudes towards both group endeavours (we tend to be cynical) and risk. In fact, it disables our ability to calculate risk, which – oddly – can lead to wild risk taking, although is more likely – in our careers – to inhibit or suppress our risk appetite.  To make us play safe, even as entrepreneurs.

So was the research revealing a propensity for outsiders to develop female entrepreneurial traits or for women entrepreneurs to feel more like outsiders? Or a mix of both – one reinforcing the other perhaps? Certainly, that was my conclusion: making this a groundbreaking report but also one opening the door to further research – perhaps looking at horizontal, rather than purely vertical, societal boundaries to entrepreneurship.

Indeed, I couldn’t help wondering whether there was also a class angle to the propensities found within female entrepreneurs – something I put to Emily Haisley of Barclays Behaviourial and Quantitative Finance (the leader of the research on behalf of Barclay and the Centre). She agreed. While noting that the survey was blind to background, she stated that the entrepreneurs she studied tended to be upper middle class (usually defined in the UK as someone with a private education) and were extraordinarily more gutsy compared to the general population.

The fact that privilege offers us an advantage in business is hardly a revelation. As I’ve said before, privilege offers the lucky few an advantage in everything: sport, music, the arts – even becoming a tramp (just ask Old Etonian George Orwell, who used homelessness to establish his literary credentials). But the fact it offers an advantage when it comes to risk – and risk appetite – is perhaps more revelatory: not least because it somewhat goes against our perceptions of the courageous rags-to-riches self-made millionaire.

But that’s to somewhat dilute the conclusions of this excellent piece of research from Barclays and the Centre for Entrepreneurs. And it’s important to point out that it wasn’t condemning women as scared-e-cats when it came to business: far from it. The women in the survey were willing to take risks, but were more sensitive to risk – and less likely to fall into the over-confidence trap of many (particularly privileged) male entrepreneurs, in which modest success is converted into a preening arrogance or psychopathic megalomania (neither being investor-friendly traits despite appearances).

My guess is that what holds true for female entrepreneurs holds true for outsiders in general – meaning that, far from being the outliers when it comes to entrepreneurial success, we may be the proverbial tortoise racing against the male/insider hare.

Actually, one last point on this if I may – something that differentiated me from all the actual female entrepreneurs in the room. A discussion started regarding what women in business needed above all else. The conclusion: a wife. Female entrepreneurs would just love to have a wife to help them because, in nearly all cases, the husband just didn’t cut the mustard when it came to family duties, household maintenance or emotional support. Indeed, there was a great deal of anecdotal evidence (supported by the survey) that one of the barriers to female entrepreneurship was the need to support the husband’s career. Oh dear – and mea culpa. Indeed, I do have a wife (not pictured) – one that I couldn’t have achieved anything without. One that encouraged me and took on so many of the support duties required of the spouse of a neurotic outsider entrepreneur. Lucky me. And thank you!



The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders, by Robert Kelsey.

An outsider’s view of the election: when two tribes go to the polls


I’ve been working with David Cameron and Ed Miliband for the past 30 years, on and off. Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve been working with them – i.e. those two individuals. In fact, I’ve yet to meet either of the main party leaders. Just that during my time as an adult – as a student in Manchester and working in London’s three primary industries (property, media and finance) – I’ve spent a great deal of time with these two types of dominant London professional: the posh Daves and the trendy Eds. Incidentally, a third type – the state-educated zone-4 (and beyond) commuter – doesn’t get to run a political party.

Both Cameron and Miliband are perfect examples of their respective tribes, which – for me – makes this a fascinating general election. The perennial outsider, I’m able to watch – for the first time – my generation’s two prevailing groups of insiders battle it out. Of course, I have a view (which I’ll come to), but – make no mistake – I feel equally estranged from both tribes.

In fact, the two tribes have a lot in common. They’re similarly educated (often doing the same course at the same university) and can both be labelled “privileged” in one form or another and certainly “advantaged”. Both consider themselves part of the elite and, in fact, have matching cultural tastes and, extraordinarily, similar (unstated) snobberies. Yet, philosophically, they’re poles apart – and a million miles from my own cultural anchoring (such as it was).

So let’s start with the Daves, where there’s the widest gap between them and I, at least in terms of background. The Daves are a friendly bunch: highly sociable, effortlessly charming and well mannered – in fact, “super polite”. Spend an hour in their company and your cheeks hurt from smiling too much while your brain aches due to the smalltalk. Indeed, the conversation is deliberately light and nuanced, usually about mutual acquaintances (however stretched), or food, or – if really pushed for common ground – sport or traffic.

Yet don’t be fooled. Your every utterance is placing you within a complicated social hierarchy. You’re being silently graded – not so much for your wealth and breeding (though both matter) – but for your usefulness. Indeed, despite an easy, born-to-rule authority, both male and female Daves are highly ambitious creatures. They’re obsessed with a “great game” that sees them unhesitatingly shaft colleagues and friends, with those on the receiving end expected to shrug off the loss as if a game of tennis.

Of course, this makes the Daves staggeringly-good schemers, which is perhaps their most maddening quality: the fact you’re almost certainly being manipulated in some unfathomable way. You can never quite tell what they’re up to and certainly never believe a word they say. That said, the Daves do listen and they’re highly practical: ideologues they ain’t.

Although professional Londoners, they occupy a golden triangle that has Hyde Park Corner as its apex, the M40 and M3 as its northern and southern boundaries (give or take) and the M5 as its western limit. In fact, Oxford is undoubtedly the epicentre of their world, which – from a historical perspective – is interesting: Oxford was the royalist capital in the English Civil War and the Daves are most certainly modern Cavaliers. They’re obsessed with status and social hierarchy – including their elevated position within it – yet there’s something faintly shambolic about them, as if there’s a natural order where things just, you know, happen.

Which takes us to the Eds: those conscientious Roundheads whose central objective of “change” is focused on replacing the “natural order” with something equally intangible – a country run on principles. They’re earnest and worthy – studiously empathetic – but also a bit serious and rather judgemental.

Indeed, many Eds speak and behave with the moral certainty of religious zealots. Become too loose tongued, and an hour in their company can feel like an inquisition from the witch-finder general with any manner of identity-politics traps likely to have you accused of staring at the moon or conversing with cats (i.e. being in some way transgressive). Less happy in their own skin, they can even seem angry and, in a few cases, embittered – at least compared to the phlegmatic ease with which the Daves glide through life.

No less ambitious than the Daves, though far more diligent, they welcome converts – erecting none of the sometimes-unstated barriers to membership that are the forte of the Daves. For the Eds – and within reason – it’s not your background that matters but the fact you agree with their outlook, which revolves around the central premise that the world would be such a nice place if only other people thought and did as the Eds think and do.

They’re the embodiment of Abraham Maslow’s self-actualisation – occupying a post-materialist moral high-ground that, no less than the Daves, seems (to those struggling to “get on”) to be the values of people from an entirely different planet.

Yet Planet Ed is smaller than Planet Dave: geographically occupying just a few North and South London postcodes with N1 at its epicentre (though an epicentre being dragged east by rising house-prices). Smaller outposts exist in South Manchester and other university cities. Indeed, outposts is the right word because there’s an underlying sense of siege about the Eds – the notion that most people are too blind or self-centred to agree with or even understand them.

While the Daves assume everybody wants their life, the Eds assume only the anointed few have their enlightenment, while the great unwashed toil under the false consciousness of Thatcherism (the evil Beelzebub or our age – sometimes depersonalised to the catch-all term “neoliberalism”): hence their barely-hidden disdain for the rest of us.

So which of the two tribes would I choose, if forced? An evening spent with the Daves would be entertaining but I’d come away worried about my many faux pas, such as using the word toilet or eating asparagus with a knife and fork or misusing the term faux pas. Yet I’d leave the Eds feeling equally inadequate: that I was somehow unworthy.

And, oddly, I owe the Daves. As a teenage apprentice in a posh West End surveying firm (employed because of my ability to converse with gasfitters) they adopted me as their gor-blimey cockney mascot – a curiosity to mock and belittle. But they never thought me stupid or immoral – simply poorly educated – and encouraged me towards adult education: a change in mindset that resulted in evening A’ level classes and, ultimately, three years spent with the Eds doing politics at Manchester University.

Yet it goes against the grain for an outsider like me to cheer-on the Cavaliers: the ultimate insiders. From any reading of the Civil War, I’ve always been Cromwell’s man – hating the affectations of the royalists, as well as their pathetic assumptions regarding birth-right, and loving the fact a highly-disciplined army of East Anglian yeomen swept all before them.

But I can’t help thinking King Charles (and certainly his son) would have made better company than those puritan zealots, who – given my track-record – would immediately suspect me of gazing too long at the moon or chatting to next door’s tabby.


Outsiders on a mission need judgement: just ask Howard Schultz

1426610527-starbucks-race-together-campaign-cafeDo outsiders lack judgement? It’s one of the central questions I attempt to answer in The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insidersnot least because it’s one that dogs outsiders no matter how far we progress. It’s also topical because of the only-slowly abating media/Twitter storm in the US over Starbucks’ now-stalled “#racetogether” promotion.

Instigated by Howard D. Schultz, Starbucks’ chairman – one of America’s richest men with a personal fortune of around US$2.6 billion – the marketing campaign has been nothing short of a PR disaster for the coffee chain. That said, most insults have focused on what many see as his billionaire hubris rather than – as I suspect – the skewed, even wayward, rationale of an outsider on a mission.

Certainly, even generous commentators have called the campaign misjudged, with Twitter condemnation ranging from declaring it self-serving, over-simplified, patronizing and tone deaf to stating that it is just plain offensive: the messianic ramblings of a rich white guy without a clue.

The campaign itself involved baristas in the coffee chain’s 4,700 US outlets scribbling the term #racetogether on the side of take-out coffee cups with the aim/hope of engendering a conversation about America’s troubled race relations. Indeed, baristas were encouraged to bring-up the subject in a casual “is it still raining outside?” kinda way – the theory being that this would open up America’s thinking on the subject.

Yes, that’s right. The issue that goes to the heart of social divisions in the world’s largest economy – involving America’s original sin of slavery and through the traumas of the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws, the civil rights era and into the inequalities and injustices of today – was seen as a worthy small-talk topic for those picking up a frappucchino® with an extra shot, and perhaps an indulgent double chocolate muffin, on their way into work.

Schultz defended the campaign by stating that conversation has “the power to change hearts and minds”. For many – however – it confirmed Starbucks as an out-of-control brand that, having grown as far and fast as it can, will inevitably indulge in self-harming promotional activities in an attempt to stay fresh and relevant.

Yet to understand how Starbucks made such a crass and potentially insensitive error, I think it helps to understand Schultz. Born into a hard-pressed Jewish Brooklyn family – the son of a former US Army trooper turned truck-driver – Howard was brought up in social housing as one of the poorest kids in a tough neighbourhood. He wasn’t particularly brilliant or, early-on in his career, visionary. He was a keen baseball and basketball player, however, which won him a sports scholarship to Northern Michigan University (the first in his family to go to college).

For the poor, sales is often seen as a route to becoming middle class, and Schultz’s first post-uni job was as a Xerox salesman. His second – also in sales – was as the US rep for Hammarplast, a little-known Swedish coffee-machine maker. And it was here where Schultz’s entrepreneurial flare first fired up – generated by the impression made on him by a 1981 visit to a popular Seattle coffee franchise called Starbucks Coffee Company. This was a one-outlet operation that, nonetheless, ordered a surprising number of plastic cone filters thanks to the company’s success at becoming a focal point for Seattle’s social life – one previously dominated by bars and nightclubs. His second entrepreneurial revelation came via a visit to Milan, Italy, where he noticed that, not only were there espresso bars on every street corner, they were the social glue of the Milanese – community hubs providing the meeting and talking spots for the entire area.

This was Schultz’s damascene moment. His life’s calling came crashing into his consciousness: to generate a national chain of espresso-bar meeting places in which Americans could socialize and chat about the issues of the day.

His first move was to try and persuade Starbucks they could develop their social format into a national chain. They declined, although one of the owners – James Baldwin – bought into Schultz’s vision to help him start il Giornale (named after Milan’s main newspaper, a central cause of topical conversation in those Milan espresso bars), which became a rival Seattle-based outlet to Starbucks.

Yet it was Starbucks that Schultz coveted. And, two years’ later, il Giornale bought-out Starbucks’ retail operation for US$3.8 million: starting its aggressive outreach across the country in 1986 and IPOing in 1992.

Of course, it’s easy to see how Schultz saw coffee and conversation as part and parcel of the Starbucks brand: it was the il Giornale-inspired realization of the Milan espresso bar. Indeed, as company owner, he saw his role as a thought leader – a sort of conversationalist in chief that engendered topical chat by opening-up previously taboo subjects. With “don’t be a bystander” as an apparent personal mantra, Schultz – using Starbucks’ resources and brand – tackled subjects such as education, gay rights, veterans’ mental welfare and even gun control.

Given this, the incendiary subject of race was but a short step “onward”.

The #racetogether campaign started on March 16th with a full-page advert in The New York Times entitled “Shall we overcome?” The backlash began almost immediately, with company spokesman Jim Olsen having to temporarily suspend his Twitter account to stem the abuse. By March 22nd, and with staff and customer complaints stacking up, the campaign was “revised” so that the baristas – 40% of whom are from ethnic minorities – could choose whether to write #racetogether on the cups or, indeed, to bring up the topic at all with their customers.

By throwing his company into the race debate Schultz, it seemed, had bitten off more than Starbucks could chew. And by overplaying his hand he had also harmed his reputation as a thought-leader and the brand’s reputation as the world’s largest chain of “community meeting places”.

Yet I sympathize. As an outsider, Schultz is an observer: hence him noticing the communal coffee-drinking habits of the Milanese. He’s also a visionary – a bit of a dreamer: hence the “mission” to plant an Italian-style espresso bar onto every American street corner and eventually across the world (though notably not in Italy). He’s able to spot trends and will likely have the creativity, entrepreneurial flair and sense of mission to execute. But what he won’t have is strong judgement regarding what is, and isn’t, a good topic for public discourse.

The sense of mission that created probably the most powerful and certainly the most ubiquitous coffee shop/meeting place brand the world has ever known (as well as numerous copycat brands) is the same instinct that fails to notice warning signs or even glaring red lights. Once started, that mission’s trajectory simply cannot be stopped. And it’s ultimately heading over a cliff.

As I warn in The Outside Edge, outsiders on a mission often start as sociopaths – become psychopaths – and may well end up as megalomaniacs. And, as history demonstrates, megalomaniacs ultimately invade Russia (i.e. they keep going until swallowed up by something so big even they’re beaten by it).

I’m not saying Schultz is a megalomaniac (or even a sociopath), I hasten to add. And I’m not saying this is the equivalent of invading Russia. But I am saying he’s an outsider – something I celebrate in the book. And that makes him a little wobbly when it comes to judging what constitutes “too far” with respect to that all-important mission.

The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders 



Outsiders and the “white male” problem


With The Outside Edge about to hit the shops, we’ve been trying to drum up some publicity. But we’ve hit a snag: one I’m calling the “white male” problem.

“You’re a white male,” several reviewers have now stated. “That makes you the ultimate insider. So what do you know about being an outsider?”

Of course, outsiders are often – perhaps even usually – perceived through vertical divides such as race or gender: being the rare black face in an industry dominated by whites (as with Tidjame Thiam); or the rare senior woman in a male-dominated environment (as with Chritsine Lagarde), and so on. These are powerful divides that can generate “impostor syndrome” – in which we feel both unqualified and unwelcome no matter what our attributes – as well as other issues such as low confidence, fear of failure and conflict phobia.

Certainly, no one’s belittling these divides and their impact.

And let’s not forget those horizontal divides, such as age and, perhaps most perniciously (not least because of its subtlety), class. Again, their impact can be negative: with us feeling patronised or unwelcome or even simply excluded due to something we cannot change.

Yet these divides are not the whole story. Far from it. Throughout history there’s been the notion of the misfit, the “changeling”, the person that rejects or is rejected by their tribe or peer group. This is a far deeper phenomenon – potentially evolutionary in its roots and certainly tribal (based on notions of a required collectiveness for survival). No amount of legislation or positive discrimination or well-meaning lobbying can resolve it. It’s often thrust upon us – from being ostracised – but it’s just as often a self-diagnosing “condition” (though perhaps “identity” is a better description of our malaise). And it creates sometimes unseen psychological issues that can lead to isolation, alienation and depression.

So the outsider, in this context, is someone within their own peer group. Or at least that’s where they started. They’re from the tribe or clan (or within the vertical divide) but not of it. They’ve become estranged.

There are several root causes to this phenomenon. Learning difficulties for instance – or perhaps dyslexia, disbraxia or even mild autism (diagnosed or otherwise). There may be family stress: parental divorce or rejection, for example, or sibling rivalry or adoption. Or peer group pressures: being the fat, small or ginger kid; the poorest in the class; the new boy/girl at school; or simply the one living a distance from the others.

That said, it can also be hyper intelligence, or extreme beauty or greater family wealth compared to your peers. In fact it’s anything that prevents that person adopting the core thinking, beliefs and culture of their family, peer group or tribe. That makes them misunderstand it or question it. And that also makes them misunderstood.

Given all this, it’s easy to see why being an outsider has only a tangential relationship to gender or race or even class. Of course, being estranged from your peers can encourage individuals to try and smash any glass ceilings they perceive – resulting in them being the very people most adept at breaking those deeply-embedded vertical divides. That said, both Christine Lagarde and Tidjane Thiam – as examples – come from highly-privileged insider backgrounds, so let’s not get carried away by the potential: as I say in The Outside Edge, feeling like an outsider is a highly disabling trait, though a disablement we can overcome.

10 clues that you’re an outsider

So are you an outsider? I offer 10 clues that may suggest you are (none involving race or gender), though – as stated – it’s largely a self-diagnosing condition so don’t feel you have to tick-off every trait.

1) Sensitivity in childhood. Being the cry-baby or mother-clinger is an early sign that you’re uncomfortable with your surroundings. For instance, my eldest son loved nursery: he delved right in. My youngest, meanwhile, wailed all the way there, refused to integrate and sulked until he was collected. Indeed “laterborns” are far more likely to become outsiders (see below).

2)  Strained family relationships. Children from “broken homes” can experience depression, anger and alienation, yet outsidership can equally be developed within strained, though “normal”, family situations. Mean siblings can generate isolation and estrangement – as can working mothers or absent fathers – with, again, “laterborns” bearing the brunt of it.

3) Disliking childhood peer-group activities. Around 20 percent of kids have sensitivity issues at nursery age. By school, around half will become integrated. This leaves around 10% suffering withdrawal and/or shyness into childhood. Yet the attempt to integrate can also throw up “problematic” or even “anti-social” behaviours. For instance, any form of childhood group activity – cubs, brownies, football, ballet, drama club etc. – is almost certainly rejected by the outsider. For me, cubs looked like extra school with added bizarre rituals; and the local football clubs appeared to be licensed bullying. I escaped both.

4) Rebelling against authority. Anyone telling others what to do can find themselves at odds with outsiders. Parents and teachers, of course: but I also found myself falling out with community organisers of any form, as well as people in uniform, local busy-bodies and even the old lady running the post office. I saw right through their paper-thin authority and became determined to challenge it.

5) Late or early onset adolescence. An interesting one this, but those deviating from the norm with respect to the onset of puberty can find themselves psychologically distant from the group. Yet this tends to be gender dependent: early-onset girls are the most likely to develop “non-normative” behaviours that lead to alienation, followed by late-onset boys.

6) Identity hopping. To the outsider, standardised youth identities can all seem attractive – not least because we think that there lies salvation. Punks, goths, metalheads: every era has them, and outsiders can jump right in. Yet we jump right out again after discovering the need to adhere to a new set of (this time unstated) rules regarding dress, outlook and hierarchies.

7) Thrill seeking and often reckless behaviour. Outsiders are likely to be those with the sharpest taste for adventure: the more dangerous and the further from home the better. This can take bizarre forms. Mine was a keenness to explore the most notorious and dangerous parts of any city I visited – somehow feeling connected to the poverty and squalor (indeed, both romanticism and “downward mobility” are further outsider traits).

8) Career zigzagging. As with identity hopping, so with career pursuits. Outsiders often have wayward career paths, although this is sometimes due to poor attainment in formal education, resulting in us developing “alternative routes” – not all of which work out. For instance, most of my contemporaries at Manchester University were amazed that I’d left my run-down Essex comprehensive with just one O’level. “How did you get here?” they’d ask. “With difficulty,” I’d reply (actually through evening classes and guile).

9) Failing to retain friendships. And just as we identity-hop, so we’re poor at maintaining close friendships. This isn’t deliberate and certainly isn’t rejection on our part. It’s actually part-restlessness, part individualism, and part a well-formed notion – based on experience – that friends tend to come and go. Certainly, as friends, outsiders are unreliable, though that’s not necessarily the case with respect to love. Indeed, love can offer true salvation for many outsiders (with Maslow’s hierarchy offering an explanation).

10) Entrepreneurialism and creativity. Outsiders see things differently. They’re observers rather than participants, which can – when nurtured – result in strong creativity and often in the development of an entrepreneurial attitude. Indeed, many outsiders end up entrepreneurs of one form or another – not least because they struggle within formal workplace hierarchies.


So, that’s the outsider. Not necessarily black or female, or white or male. That said, a white male could well be the best-placed person to write such a book. Why? Because female and ethnic outsiders will write books based on overcoming the (strong and debilitating) vertical divides they’ve been forced to surmount in order to succeed. I had no such vertical divides (though the horizontal divide of class remains a highly-pervasive and corrosive division) – meaning I can discern the psychological wood from the vertical trees. Persuading editors of this is, of course, another matter.


The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders.


Why the solar eclipse left me cold

706834main_20121113-solareclipse_full (1)Hurrah, it was cloudy yesterday morning. Really cloudy: that dirty-white duvet-thick covering that only British skies seem capable of. Oh, how I love the British weather on such occasions as the solar eclipse. There was absolutely no chance of viewing it here in London, meaning there was absolutely no chance of being distracted by yet another daft thing intended to distract us.

What a terrible boss I am to think such thoughts! Apologies. Yet it goes much deeper than that. It’s not just the galley drumbeat that drives me to detest such ridiculous impositions into the working day. It’s the bloody distractions themselves. The modern world seems to generate historic “must see” events on an almost weekly basis – all somehow timed to stop people going about their midweek daily routines.

I first noticed this during President Obama’s inauguration speech back in 2009. I came back to work after a tiring round of meetings to find the office deserted. The team, assuming this a never-to-be-repeated must-see event, had gone to the pub – leaving just one person holding the fort and even he was watching it on his PC. I reacted angrily, which triggered an angry exchange between us, resulting in me going home to work. Here, I found my partially-deaf mother-in-law watching the bloody inauguration on the TV with the volume so loud it could be heard down the street.

“What’s wrong with the 10 O’clock bloody news,” I shouted above Barack’s layered tones (it wasn’t heard) before resorting to earphones, my iPod, and a loud Frankie Knuckles session.

I should add that, yes absolutely, Obama becoming president was certainly an “event” to be marked. But, indeed, the world used to wait until the evening news to mark it: with the event itself packaged and edited to remove the boring bits and provide context. Why are we now expected to watch the whole over-blown invented tradition as if we were there, and be treated like a pariah for refusing to think such an indulgence some sort of human right?

Of course, Obama’s inauguration was a mere blip on the screen compared to Nelson Mandela’s funeral (in fact a state memorial service). Forget context. Forget editing. This was a full-on real-time global wake intended to absorb every living creature’s consciousness for days on end. The BBC threw out its scheduling for the day and sent 120 journalists to cover it – eventually comparing the great man to Jesus! And still the only two significant events (President Zuma being booed and the Obama/Cameron/Thorning-Schmidt selfie) had to wait for later editing to be revealed (the live-feed filtering out the booing).

That said, at least those were genuinely historic events. Some just feel like excuses to flee the office. England Vs Costa Rica in the World Cup – let’s stop work. One more bloody test in yet another Ashes series – let’s stop work. Another stupid protest outside of RBS’s front door (this one featuring Russell Brand perhaps or a Channel 4 journo losing his temper) – let’s stop work.

I hasten to add that, for me, there’s more to it than just a Scrooge-like cumugeonly dislike of anything likely to lift heads from the lathe (or PC), although – I confess – that is a factor. There’s my inbuilt cynicism as an outsider. At root, almost anything that smacks of collectivity – of something we’re all supposed to acknowledge, feel and appreciate as a group – has me instinctively reaching for the sick-bucket. Tell me to watch a royal wedding or smile at a royal baby, and I’ll roll my eyes and talk about Oliver Cromwell’s genius. Tell me to support England (any England) and I’ll start supporting Bangladesh or Samoa or Costa Rica (though perhaps not Australia, France or Germany).

Indeed, anything that can be called “national life” and – these days – “global life” triggers an innate rebellion I find difficult to suppress. It comes from a childhood dislike of authority based on a mutual disrespect between myself and anyone trying to impose their will upon me: perhaps because they were older, or more senior, or just happened to be my father. Then, all I could see was their blank insistence – an imposition that offered no attempt to explain why or carry me with them.

Of course, in childhood this is a disabling trait – and one that has enormous repercussions in adulthood. It makes us the outsiders, without the necessary insight regarding why we feel so estranged. It also triggers reactivity in adult situations that most certainly goes against our self-interest. So it’s something we ultimately have to suppress if we’re to make progress – although, as I state in my upcoming book (The Outside Edge), this is only possible if we have a thought-through objective. Then, we can see authority – any authority – as nothing more than a gatekeeper to be negotiated. Someone we look through to the other side, rather than as a judge of our isolation or our inadequacies. And we may learn to see customs and collectivist moments such as historic or sporting events in the same way.

Indeed, with an objective, it’s just possible that smiling at royal babies and even supporting England could work in our interest: by encouraging people to think well of us, perhaps, or by motivating our team into being more productive due to feeling fulfilled at work. That said, I still draw the line at mid-morning solar eclipses.

The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders, out April 2nd