Writing Links Archives - Dominic Jeff -Writing for Business
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Writing Links

Lighting the Spark

The artist David Hockney famously moved to California because he found the light inspiring. No sooner was he there, his paintings lightened up too, as he abandoned the darker themes that his native Bradford elicited in him and focused on water, greenery and light.

Of course there may also have been an element of a young man discovering a new place and leaving the oppressive environment of the home town behind. But his need for light, fresh air and nature strikes a chord with many creative people.

Writing on LinkedIn recently about how I like to go for a bike ride to get my inspiration for writing, I found that my idea of getting out into the fresh air was far from unusual: People I have never met took to the comments section to say how they like to find their spark, and it included going to the beach and ’getting outdoors’.

The beach is one thing that we don’t have in Switzerland and as a Brit, I do miss the sea. But the real uplifting element for me is the light. Every place seems to have a golden season for light: in Britain it is the long summer evenings; in Switzerland sunny Autumn days bring out some extraordinary colours and clarity; and I’m a huge fan of the Spanish hills in winter. All of these literally seem to stimulate a part of my brain that wants to write, create and communicate.

Writing in Switzerland

Working as a journalist, blogger and copywriter in Switzerland, I’m lucky in that I have some great options for finding the light: I can jump on my bike and climb into a Swiss wonderland of cherry orchards and picturesque villages around Gempen, or enjoy the fabulous colours of the Autumn forest in Laufental. Or I can follow the pastoral Bruderholz hill into Basel, with the light playing on the Rhine valley beyond.

Cycling doesn’t require a lot of engagement of the brain, so it’s a great time for thinking. The rhythmic motion of feet on pedals seems to literally crank up my brain, so that soon it’s racing way ahead of the road in front of me, seeing angles in stories nobody had realised were there, or picking quotes that offer the key to explaining a complex issue.

When I return home to my desk, I often hit the keyboard straight away. Showers, food and checking emails can wait: I have words in my mind that I want to get down.

Breaks and Productivity

Of course, I enjoy writing about business and the subject itself also inspires me. However, it’s not only creativity that benefits from taking a break, having a change of scene and doing something uplifting. We make productivity gains too. A recent series of studies summarised in Harvard Business Review recently found that both regular breaks, and switching tasks often and to a schedule, helped workers solve problems faster. Basically, an active break is also good for productivity.

Writing in Psychology Today, retired professor and author of ’Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success’ Meg Selig says that for “think-work,” the prefrontal cortex needs to recharge regularly.

Meg found studies showing that short ‘movement breaks’ are essential in sedentary jobs; that leaders easily suffer from ‘decision fatigue’ if they work too solidly; that resting helps learning; and that we are more motivated to focus on long-term goals after a pause. Perhaps most importantly, working for long stretches without breaks leads to stress and exhaustion.

Meg’s top tips for breaks that really recharge your creative and productive batteries: Going for a walk, doing exercise, changing your environment and connecting with the outside world; for those who are less inclined to the physical a ‘power nap’ works too, as does having a coffee, meditating and even daydreaming. Just don’t look at a computer screen!

The Great Interest Rates Bluff

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

So the Bank of England has finally raised interest rates above their 2008 low! Don’t get too used to this: the Old Lady immediately signalled for calm through a plausibly deniable interview by an outgoing policy maker.

Writing about monetary policy committee’s decision for a property publication, I was reminded of an article I wrote for The Scotsman way back in 2012. It was one of my first real scoops for the business desk, after I was passed a Credit Suisse note arguing that accommodative monetary policy was here to stay.

It’s hard to believe, looking back, that six years ago markets were on edge because there was an expectation that the record low interest rates and quantitative easing (QE) programmes central banks had introduced to counter the financial crisis and recession would soon be put into reverse. Even as a relatively junior business reporter, I was inclined to think: ’why?’

The economy was a long way from anything that could be considered ‘overheating’. As a new homeowner myself at the time, it was also clear that in the UK at least, raising rates back to their pre-crisis levels of around 5% would lead to a crash that would make the credit crunch look like a minor correction. Quite simply, there was just way too much debt out there, and people’s ability to service it was sketchy at best.

At the same time, the Government also had a huge and growing debt pile and plans to bring it under control amounted to gently balancing the books over a number of years. Anything else would have been too great a shock on the fledgling recovery, and therefore counterproductive. But the state was reliant on low rates and QE to ensure the debt was serviceable – at the time, that was how the UK was avoiding the kind of capital markets crises that shook even relatively spendthrift Spain, despite the UK having a much higher ration of debt-to-GDP.

Far from being on the point of raising rates, therefore, it seemed to me that the Bank of England was desperately trying to hold on to the last vestiges of credibility regarding its commitment to fight inflation, while at the same time pretending that things were nowhere near as bad as they were. The ECB was the only Western institution to be resisting unconventional policy measures and that was looking like a mistake. It still does, because it was always going to take a generation of low rates and unchecked mild inflation to gently bring the West’s debt/growth/employment problem under control.

Some of that work is now done: According to the Office for National Statistics, prices in the UK in 2018 are 30.28% higher than prices in 2009. In effect, we’ve inflated away almost a third of our pre-crisis debt, without lifting a finger and with no fanfare. Modest genuine GDP growth means the government has fared even better with its real-terms debt.

As my friends at Credit Suisse argued back in 2012, this is reminiscent of the monetary and fiscal policy of the decades following the Second World War. Back then, a number of blunt instruments such as capital controls were deployed to ensure financial institutions played ball and acquiesced to roughly 30 years of real negative interest rates before deregulation began in the 1970s, just as rates finally rose to check inflation that was finally becoming a real problem.

These days, central banks have not resorted to such draconian measures… although the Solvency rules drafted to underpin financial stability have tone convenient effect of making institutions hold cheap government debt. Arguably though, the biggest weapon central banks have at their disposal to combat inflation is expectation: Again and again since 2008, we have seen stock markets fall on good economic news because traders believe it increases the chance of central banks finally raising rates.

Central bankers have constantly talked up the possibility of rate rises. It is in their nature to do so. They simply have to pretend that they are aggressively targeting inflation and are ready to hike rates to protect their national currencies at the drop of a hat: otherwise, growth-friendly policies will be seized upon as weakness and cause an inflationary spiral. It is all the more surprising, therefore, to hear an outgoing member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee say what he’s thinking.

Ian McCafferty, one of the MPC’s external members, used his valedictory interview shortly after the August meeting to predict that the era of low interest rates will last for at least another 20 years. He believes the base rate will gently rise, but will stay well below the pre-financial crisis standard of 5%.

“It is too much to say never, that we won’t ever go back. But there is a 20-year horizon under which there will be factors keeping it low,” he said.
That fits in nicely with the post-war timescale, given that we are now a decade into the current monetary easing programme. No doubt, small rates rises will be drip-fed tactically to keep the fig leaf of inflation-targeting policy fresh: but the job is far from done. Growth may seem healthy when viewed from the ivory towers of industry in Northern European capitals, but the man and woman on the street still consider that they are paying the price for the banks’ great folly.

Like their grandparents who went through WWII, people now expect to enjoy their time in the sun after struggling through a decade of being denied growth. Whatever your opinion of the moral equivalence of this perception, new generations expect opportunities to at least match those afforded their predecessors, with many already turning to populism when this is not forthcoming. Central banks, therefore, have their hands tied.

Business blogging for tim

I’d like to introduce you to tim. Short for The Invoice Market – and also the name of their excellent mascot – tim and I have been working together for a year now on a blog series aimed at helping small and medium sized enterprises with their finances and other issues.

https://www.theinvoicemarket.com.au/blog

We’ve taken a look at business plans, letters of credit, and explained why any good business should be ready for sale;

We’ve produced a guide to business insurance, and discussed outsourcing the CFO role;  and we’ve shared tips for growing your business and especially your profits, for example with the power of a 1% change.

A fintech platform that links businesses seeking invoice financing with people looking to invest, tim has successfully arranged AUS $310 million in funding for Australian business. It has helped hundreds of firms raise cash against 18,000 invoices to date.

So I’m delighted to be involved in blogging for tim, and hope that all that busines advice is being put to good use as well!

Recent Articles: #vanlife and web design

I’m no web designer, as this site proves, but I think that those of us on the content creation side have an important role to play in shaping the web too. That’s why I ran an extended version of my ‘How Long should a Blog Be’ article in the prestigious Webdesigner Depot magazine: https://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2018/04/how-long-is-the-perfect-blog-post/

Another area of personal experience I wrote abut recently was remote working… from a camper van. As a writer, I enjoy the freedom of being able to work from any location, and indeed a change of environment can be the perfect tonic for waning inspiration… especially when you go somewhere beautiful.

The picture below shows my trusty van near Oliana, in Catalunya, on a frosty morning. It was great to be above the inversion as I find the light in Catalunya in winter perfect for feeling energised and creative. If you’re in any doubt about why you should hire a freelance or encourage remote working, have a read!

Working on the Road – What Van Life Is Really Like