While all elections have their own memorable moments, the general election of 1983 holds a particular place in labour party folklore as the party’s most traumatic defeat. Even now looking back nearly 33 years later I can’t quite believe the sheer awfulness of the campaign. Images of Michael Foot in donkey jacket riding on the beleaguered open topped battle bus picking twigs out of his hair remain vivid. The speaking tour of GB was poorly organised, chaotic, and should Michael Foot have got to the destination in one piece what would he say. The party had issued a manifesto which was to become known as the ‘Longest suicide note in history’. It was sometimes a question of ‘best to look away now’. In hindsight many people say that the result was obvious and perhaps it was if you stopped to actually do the maths – but day to day away from the 24 hour news media we have today it was actually possible to believe in the impossible. So much so that I remember gathering with friends after the polling station closed around a TV to eagerly await news as if there was a chance that Labour could win. Whether there are any spooky parallels between the 1983 election and 2017 remain to be seen. However one lesson I draw from these events is this. Michael Foot was popular among his devotees as Jeremy Corbyn is today with his. But that is not enough. And it is the same in business as it is in politics. Internal adulation of the leader and a strong belief in what you stand for as a political party or business without the support of the voters or customers is not enough. You cannot survive let alone be successful. In politics as in business it is important to remain relevant to your audience and in tune with what they need and care about. All else is irrelevant. Sometimes I see businesses that are struggling and losing ground to the competition but who have identified some new intellectual property as being the answer to their struggles. They believe that their leader and a new gizmo will carry the day. Sometimes it can – but only if the gizmo is truly what the customer wants. Often the business has just lost its way and it is not. For those cases of serious decline it is worth going back to basics and restating the case as to why customers should want what they can provide. From there you can see what intellectual property you may have to protect. Papering over the cracks by spending money on capturing intellectual property which does not bring change to the business is not enough and not the answer. A business that is willing to make drastic changes when faced with becoming extinct can go on to great things ……………..they just need to be brave and give their business that chance.
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