I have just finished reading More Human. This book written by Steve Hilton and published last week. Steve Hilton was an adviser to David Cameron from 2006 to 2012 (and was caricatured as special advisor Stewart Pearson in “The Thick of It”). It is not often I feel compelled to write a blog about a book I just read, so this book has clearly had a big impact. The last time I wrote a blog about a book was when I read Nassim Nicholas Taleb on The Black Swan.
Steve Hilton analyses and explains things that have frustrated me for many years about the way business, politics, government, schools, healthcare and many institutions operate against people rather than for people. He shows how institutions and bureaucracy frequently frustrate and damage the people that they set out to help. He discusses how leaders have the very best motives to help people (there is no conspiracy to harm people) but often feel trapped by the way things work and believe they are doing the right thing in the circumstances. He describes how staff in airlines, civil service, social services, schools and many places can end up behaving in ways that are not human, even though they are almost certainly caring and loving with their friends and family.
The central idea is that we have lost touch with what it means to be human. The institutions and bureaucracy we have created do not treat people as human. This has affected everything: the food we eat, the schools our children go to, the growing inequality, the lower engagement with politicians, the hospitals and healthcare services and we use, our inability to eliminate poverty and they ways we bring up our children.
Yet, the world is full of examples of how when people get together to make things happen at a human level, then great things do happen. How is it that we cannot harness this more effectively?
I cannot do his ideas justice in two paragraphs, you have to read it. At first you may find some of it seems fanciful and impractical. But if you find yourself thinking that then I would urge you to read on. Steve Hilton diagnoses many things that are wrong and the fixes he suggests are radical. The ideas are not classically left-wing or right-wing. Many of the ideas require a change in what we find socially and culturally acceptable, not just a few short-term policy fixes. It is amazing to me how many people disagree with the idea that being more human is the way forward. (See tweet from Alan Duncan)
All you need to know about Steve Hilton – ‘Once he went, we won.’
— Alan Duncan (@AlanDuncanMP) May 19, 2015
Steve Hilton concludes that to make something happen needs a large number of people who are committed to be being More Human actually in positions of power and leadership . He invites us to join in and have a go and run for office.
Is there anything we can do in business today?
Whilst much of this is in the political arena, this need to be “More Human” also affects business and there are things business can do within the current economy and politics.
I believe that when we set out to help customers solve a problem or satisfy a need rather than just focus on how to extract more money from customers, then we create a better business. And this will be a more human business. By that I mean we enjoy more growth, make more money, are a happier place to work, create more jobs and build sustainable long-term value.
This is the difference between being a value adder and a value extractor. Value adders want to help customers. Value extractors work out how to get the most money from them. The interesting thing is that all big innovations that really transformed industries and markets involved helping customers solve a problem, not just making more money from customers.
So EasyJet challenged the European Airlines like BA who were all value extractors. First Direct and MetroBank challenged the value extractor banks. AirBnB are challenging the hotel chains. All these game changing businesses focused on the people’s real needs and problems and enabling us to do things we wanted to do as people.
There is now a change happening in the food industry. The supermarkets were value adders who provided what people wanted, created wider availability and delivered better value. They have become value extractors driving prices up through pricing, confusing promotions and local dominance. But now they are looking vulnerable to many smaller businesses that help customers in more relevant ways from discounters to local food producers and retailers.
If you are working in a business with a value extractor mindset and you think there is a better way to get growth by helping customers, it is not easy to get people to see it. But there is a way. I explain the thinking and the approach in this paper.
Steve Hilton definitely fits my definition of being an attractive thinker (and doer). I filled out the form in the back of his website under the button “Run for Office”. Looking forward to see what I get back.