Expectation, Realities and Coulrophobia in Business

“Obstacles do not exist to be surrendered to, but only to be broken”

by Andrew Hickson

Have you ever discovered a dissonance between your expectations at work and what has been delivered in reality? If your answer to that is “no”, then I must assume you are Watson-like AI and are monitoring my writing since I slagged you off online a couple of months back (…and I’m sorry for that. I will learn to improve and will try not to disappoint you in the future). But for now, let’s assume you are human, in which case it’s a safe bet that you have been in a situation where your expectations have not been met, for one reason or another.

tony robbins

Before we start, I want a show of hands: have you ever read a Tony Robbins book, or seen a show, or quoted him? We’ll get back to this later…

A couple of weeks ago I was in London at a business trade show at the Excel Centre out in the Docklands. When I arrived at my Airbnb near the Excel Centre I looked out my window and was greeted by an amazing view of the O2 Arena (AKA: The Millennium Dome). The Dome project was conceived, originally on a somewhat smaller scale, under John Major’s Conservative government, and carried out by the Labour government elected in 1997 under Tony Blair (although it was greatly expanded in the size, scope and funding from the original Conservative plans). It also significantly increased expectations of what would be delivered. Just before its opening Blair claimed the Dome would be

“a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity.”

Mr. Blair’s words were ringing in my head as I walked around the Excel Centre at The Business Show.

O2 Arena (AKA: The Millennium Dome)

I travelled to London with a list of targets that I wanted to meet. I had given myself admittedly ambitious targets for the 2 days of the trade shows I was going to attend. I was going to have 80-100 conversations over the 2 days. Now I understood that many of those conversations would occur at a couple of Speed-networking sessions which I had signed up to. I had a target of 30 genuine prospects from the 2 days. From the 30 prospects, given the international business focus of the trade shows I felt confident I would be able to acquire 20 new clients from the days. I have never been so excited before a trade show in my life and as I disembarked the DLR train at the Custom House I was swept along in a tide of business men and women marching confidently into this great Cathedral of Commerce.

The first indication that my expectations were out of whack with reality occurred within minutes of registering and getting my accreditation. I strode into the first hall and was greeted by a stage with a large crowd gathered around listening to man pontificate on the virtues of doing business in a new way. “Like new Labour we are redefining networking. No more stuffy Suits! We talk to you. On your level. In language you can understand.” Other than feeling a little self-aware in my stuffy suit, I found myself feeling uneasy, and I couldn’t figure out why. “We have over 30,000 conversations every year”. Not sure how many “we” are, but that sounded… impressive? And yet still I couldn’t put my finger on what was making me feel uncomfortable. Was it really my suit? I am still carrying my extra Christmas weight… maybe that was it?!

“Never lose hope, be persistent and stubborn and never give up. There are many instances in history where apparent losers suddenly turn out to be winners unexpectedly, so you should never conclude all hope is lost.”

I moved on to the next stage and was greeted by a very slickly dressed man with a very loud sound system projecting his voice at the crowd who had gathered expectantly in front of the performance area. “Have you ever made £10,000 in ONE HOUR?!” And then it hit me! The speaker at the first stage wasn’t actually selling anything. Well, he was selling something, but that was an ability to network. So he wasn’t standing up there saying how he changed his life by selling anything, he was saying that he could teach you how to sell whatever it is you are trying to sell. With a side-dish of FU to “The Man”. And now I was standing in front of the physical manifestation of the Nigerian Prince scam emails. This guy was promising “a clean profit of £10,000 a week” after just 2 months following the easy steps laid out in his book.

My head started to spin. Tony Robbins has a lot to answer for. There were at least 7 stands with guys selling their motivational/self-help/instruction books for a better business life. One of those stands was actually selling Tony Robbin’s books with a massive life-size cut-out of the great man himself. Now, before I go too far down the Tony Robbins bashing road, I have to say I haven’t actually read any of his books, but he does seem to have quite a few solid ideas that could (and probably should) be followed by anyone who wants to succeed in business.

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible”

The problem which occurs when someone like Tony Robbins gains massive worldwide success is best summed up by another Tony Robbins quote:

“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results”

I’m not sure Tony meant that you should also write a self-help book, but for the love of God, so many people apparently have.

From this realisation, my natural and somewhat shakily subdued cynicism overtook my confidence, the blandness of the speakers shone greater than the boldness of innovative original business, and mediocrity took excellence behind the bike sheds and gave it a wedgie for not being different like everyone else.

Perhaps my most vivid take-away from the days was a conversation I had with a young man in the speed-networking. Just to set the scene, the speed networking event took place in a small pen cut-off from the rest of the hall by a waist high barrier. Sitting face to face we were each given 1 minute to explain who we are and what we can do for them. I realised quickly that it was beneficial to go second in this exchange so I could tailor our translation services to their specific needs and possible pain points. After about 10 conversations I came face to face with Kyle. (Not his real name!)

Kyle was young, perhaps in his early to mid-twenties. Kyle was big. He was built like a bit of a tank. He had a short Mohawk haircut. Kyle was a personal trainer who was selling his services as a consultant to businesses. He explained through permanently gritted teeth that he would help get all the staff in our office fit and healthy in mind and body. His specific organisation worked in-house with firms and designed training programs specifically for each member of staff to ensure their performance goals would be met. I don’t know if it was his horrifically bad breath, his imposing size in such close quarters, or his steely gaze and constantly gnashing teeth but I couldn’t help buy imagine Kyle as an angry (is there any other type?) drill master.

drill master

I walked through the many great halls of the Excel Centre in a bit of a daze. So many of the companies present were there to promote or sell their specific method for acquiring/monitoring/analysing leads, and so few were there to sell their product. I am aware that as a salesperson for a service as intangible as translation my disappointment with the presence of other services is a little short-sighted at best and hypocritical at best. I will say that not all companies present were on the same level. There were a lot of very interesting companies present, and I did have a number of interesting conversations. Unfortunately the event was coated in the stench of desperation that the wannabe self-help guru’s and pyramid scheme enthusiasts sprayed into the atmosphere. Harsh? Perhaps, but if I had paid to have a stand there I would be rather upset.

I returned to my accommodation on the banks of the river Thames next to the East India stop on the DLR after my days at the Excel Centre. Sitting on a bench looking out at the O2 Arena I couldn’t shake the realisation that to celebrate the Millennium, New Labour had invited the circus to town; From their “Big Top” here in Greenwich to the “Ferris-wheel” on the South bank and I had spent 2 days with snake-oil salesmen and clowns. And clowns scare me.

O2 Arena (AKA: The Millennium Dome) by night

 “In the end, you’re measured not by how much you undertake, but by what you finally accomplish”

Just to finish up, I have littered that blog with Tony Robbins-style inspirational quotes. Not all the quotes come from Tony Robbins though. In fact the quotes are:

  • “Obstacles do not exist to be surrendered to, but only to be broken.”- Hitler
  • “Never lose hope, be persistent and stubborn and never give up. There are many instances in history where apparent losers suddenly turn out to be winners unexpectedly, so you should never conclude all hope is lost.” – Ted Kaczynski (The Unabomber)
  • “In the end, you’re measured not by how much you undertake, but by what you finally accomplish” – Donald J. Trump

So please remember, if Hitler can be made to sound like Tony Robbins anyone can. Having said that, if Tony, or any of his… contemporaries (?) want to have their books translated into Dutch or German, please call me?


Thanks for reading 🙂


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