Tag Archives: Altitude

Pleasure yourself. We do!

What is the perfect job? Apple gadget tester? Guinness taster? Most of us have a dream job, but in almost all cases it remains just that: a fantasy. But if you could set up a company and do exactly what you want, how you want, when you want, what would it be like? Well, we did and we called it Altitude.

A little over two years ago, towards the end of a second bottle of merlot, the conversation changed from “what if?” to “how?”, and the concept of Altitude was born. Three firm friends, who had worked together nearly 20 years ago, each with very different and complementary skills and personalities, decided to stop working for other people and to work for themselves.

We stole all the experience from one of our friends, who had done it five years earlier, and just seven weeks from that first conversation we registered our company. By then, we had already drawn up a five-year plan, setting our long-term objectives and goals and worked out the strategies, measures and targets (OGSMT) that would get us there. It may seem little over the top for a three-person consultancy, but it has given us focus and a framework in which to operate. Our OGSMT has barely changed since, other than to add a “J” for “Joy” to the end, of which more later.

It has never been about money: it is about choosing a way of living. Altitude is a lifestyle consultancy: a company created, for better or for worse, in our own image, allowing us to be and to do what we please in our own, idiosyncratic way. Providing a professional, top-notch service is, of course, paramount and we never compromise on the quality of our work. But that leaves our consciences clear when we mess about the rest of the time.

We have clearly-defined roles which play to our individual strengths. The Chairman is also Fire Warden, for instance. And we have a Company Secretary, Director of Finance, Director of IT, Director of Design, Director of HR, Director of New Business, Director of Grammar, Head of Car Hire, Chief Wine Taster, Health and Safety Officer and a Grand Pooh-Bah of Joy. Our diminutive consultant is also Stationery Manager, Women’s Officer, Head of Diversity and Small Business Manager.

We allow sufficient space for very different ways of working. So Altitude accommodates anally-retentive control-freakiness (Steve), fence-sitting forgetfulness (Tony) and deliberating, accident-prone introversion (Richard). Our flexible working arrangements provide ample scope for Richard to come to work an hour later than the others (despite getting up an hour earlier), and more holidays than you can shake a stick at.

We do everything by consensus. If we don’t agree there are several dispute-resolution mechanisms. The first is to browbeat the others into submission (the Steve approach); the second is to think about things for a very, very, very long time and then decide you don’t really care either way (the Richard approach); the third is rock-paper-scissors (the Tony approach – which he persists with despite never winning). When it comes to clients, each of us has a veto, though Richard can’t conceive of any circumstances in which he would ever exercise his.

We have half-yearly strategic business performance reviews, which have so far taken place in Krakow, Bruges and Rome. The next one, in June, is in Berlin and happily coincides with the World Cup and the appearance of big screens in beer gardens.

We always – and I mean always – look for the ridiculous and the humour in everything. We are relentless in exploiting each other’s weaknesses, winding each other up and playing tricks. This approach extends to our favoured clients, one of which we won while playing word bingo – seeing who could get the most words associated with his name into our pitch.

In fact, everything we do must be underpinned with Joy. So we have a Joy Agenda, directed by the Grand Pooh-Bah of Joy (Tony), with a Joy Budget and a Joy Index (with measured targets) within our five-year OGSMTJ. The aim is to exploit anything with Joytential. We have a range of Joy activities, many of which are conceived and executed at the Punch Tavern, including our annual Christmas party and our inter-client pub quiz. The long-planned Altitude Joy Olympics has been delayed due to holidays, but a dazzling opening ceremony will be followed by pool, darts, bowling, pinball, the quiz machine and other sporting events.

It may seem that we are a bunch of overgrown kids, and I suppose we are. But we are also running a business that has won, retained and expanded some prestige clients because of the utter reliability of the work we do for them. We only live once and we want to have fun in the time we spend at work. And how cool is it to start up and run a company and do exactly as you please with it?

Very cool. Take it from us.

The internet: a Nobel cause..?

The internet has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, the internet – an inanimate object. Last year, the winner essentially won it for being elected President of the US, not a public office naturally linked with peace, although often accused of being occupied by an inanimate object.

Forgetting the possible damage to the prestige of the prize itself, one has to question whether the concept of peace is being properly applied. The nomination was submitted by Wired Italy magazine, which claimed that the internet can “destroy hate and conflict and propagate peace and democracy.” They clearly haven’t visited the BNP site but nevertheless, I agree.

I love the internet. It empowers hundreds of millions of people to communicate instantly on a global scale, dissipating information (some of it even accurate) in seconds. It brought us email, sit-down shopping and has opened up a whole new world of gentlemanly pursuits. It made possible the Altitude blog and elevated Paris Hilton from obscurity to global embarrassment. OK, so it’s not perfect.

But that’s just half the story. It can also be divisive if its benefits are not shared. The European Commission has likened the internet’s impact upon industry with that of the railways. Many consider that an understatement; the proliferation of and access to the internet are far speedier than could be said of the railways, impacting upon people’s lives at a faster rate. Advances in its technologies are also more rapid, with 4th generation Wi-Fi already developed that can download a feature film to your computer in seconds.

But as the technology races forward, the gap between the benefits of the “haves” and the opportunities denied the “have-nots” widens. This is not just a global matter: Bulgaria and Cyprus already lag so far behind the rest of the EU in broadband access and subsequent economic and social exclusion that the EU risks nurturing a significant gap between members states. (Thankfully, Altitude is involved in a project that would bring Cyprus to the top of the broadband league table, so we’re pulling our weight here!)

Globally, the consequences are far more acute. As long ago as 2000, the World Health Organisation described the current divide as “more dramatic than any other inequality in health or income.” While there may be more people accessing the internet in 2010, the majority of that growth has been in developed countries and the capabilities available via the internet are far more advanced in the developed world than they were at the start of the century.

The technological divide is not just an economic one. It’s no surprise that China struggles to balance its economic ambitions with the way it governs. Technology – or rather the denial of access to it – can have significant consequences in democratic terms.

As this particular type of economic and democratic inequality grows, the countries that are struggling to compete, or even join the game, will be more marginalised, divided and poor as a result. History suggests that as inequality increases, so does the potential for conflict.

The internet is a valuable tool for progress and its potential for helping poorer countries to develop and prosper is enormous. But until the international community acts in order for that to happen, it can have no claim to a Nobel Peace Prize.

Incidentally, other nominees include the human rights campaigners Liu Xiaobo and Svetlana Gannushkina. If you aren’t aware of their incredible efforts to improve the lives of people in China and Russia respectively, it’s easy to find out more – look them up on the internet.

Watching party leaders’ mass-debate

We at Altitude Towers have been discussing the value of debate recently. Nothing beats a good debate. The ability to put across a reasoned, logically-constructed case, to win over an audience and to impose the strength of your reasoning to the point of persuasion, is a skill indeed. It is a competence that benefits an individual throughout his or her life, whether it is in the playground, in a work situation or just chatting footy down the pub. It’s a skill that should be cultivated and which is sadly not exercised widely enough in our schools and colleges.

So why am I so dreading the prospect of three televised debates between the party leaders prior to the general election?

Many respected media commentators (and Nicky Campbell) have labelled the coming general election as the most important for years. (It’s certainly the most important in the last four years). The implication is that our votes will be more momentous because they will return a Government tasked with delivering economic recovery. It’s also a barometer election for the minority parties, with the Green Party standing a real chance of returning their first MP and the BNP looking to woo disaffected voters from across the political spectrum.

So, when a normally disengaged voting public has every reason to focus properly on the policies of all parties, why give it an excuse to ignore policies and the wider campaign and to make their (apparently) most important electoral decision for years on the basis of a nicer tie, a sharper performance on the night or better-prepared sound bites. It is said that Kennedy “won” the first televised US debate against Nixon because the Republican looked drawn and ashen following recent hospitalisation and the wrong shade of suit. Do we really want this election to be decided on Gordon Brown’s uncomfortable smile, David Cameron’s shiny forehead or the fact that most of the public will now know what Nick Clegg looks like?

The televised sparring will simply give an apathetic public an easy get-out, rather than engage them in the more substantive debates that will take place outside the television studios.

The very essence of the art of debating is diminished when the chance to land an easy punch in front of a larger audience becomes more desirable than expounding your case and informing people along the way.

Debate – and politics – is once again losing out for the sake of supposedly “good telly”.