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Only 237 days to go until the official Brexit date of March 29, 2019, and only microscopic progress has been made on crafting a ‘Win-Win’ divorce deal.
Such is the state of affairs that exists (1) within the UK, (2) within the EU, and (3) between the two countries. It is to weep.
But whether the United Kingdom or the European Union are ready for Brexit or not, the Brexit baby will be born — therefore, it’s imperative that both sides stop posturing and get on with creating a deal that works for citizens and industry on both sides of the English Channel.
What Else Is There Besides Brexit?
Although it may be difficult for Europeans to see, there are bigger issues in the world than Brexit which is why a deal needs to get done properly and quickly as there are other, more pressing, and more important matters for European politicians to attend to.
If we liken the geopolitical world to an auto race (a Formula One race) while all the other teams are busy prepping for the race and getting to their startup positions, the UK and the EU have found a muddy part of the infield and are playing ‘bumper cars’ with each other like a couple of overly-exuberant teenagers — getting mud all over their sponsor’s brand names and on their respective drivers’ goggles, they’re damaging the tires and composite body of their race cars, and they’re burning up precious fuel reserved for racing against the ‘big boy teams’ of America, China, Japan, India, Brazil and others.
Either the UK and the EU governments already have a deal and just haven’t announced it to the public, or they don’t realize that other more important geopolitical matters will soon bypass the ‘tempest in a teapot’ happening in Europe.
New and important things sometimes start small. Don’t believe it?
The first streetlights were installed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1879 when electric lights (Brush arc lamps) were placed along major roadways. Thomas Edison (who spent most of his day napping in his workshop only to become extremely productive afterward) was a person who toiled away for years inventing and designing a reliable light bulb, manufacturing one bulb at a time. Yet, the lighting industry in its entirety is a multi-trillion dollar business in our day.
George Eastman, right under everyone’s noses created a company in 1888 (Kodak) that eventually made so much money they weren’t always able to count it. New machines had to be built (computers) to keep track of the astronomical number of transactions happening all over the world, every minute of every day. Over the decades Kodak contributed more than a trillion dollars to the global economy and made the company and its shareholders unbelievably wealthy. Kodak’s patents and knowledge are still with us today.
The Wright Brothers ultralight aircraft first flew on December 17, 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. At that time, the two men were thought of as odd, even eccentric people with fantastical ideas wasting precious days that could’ve been better spent. Yet, look at what their great invention has created — a multi-trillion dollar civilian airline industry and military aircraft industry.
From tiny beginnings, the first Model T automobile rolled off the assembly line on October 1, 1908 and see the changes the auto industry has brought to the world. Henry Ford is widely credited with the creation of the American middle class, something that propelled America far ahead of its competitors. Today, the world’s auto industry is also a multi-trillion dollar business, yet everyone thought old Henry was a bit of a dreamer.
King George VI united the modern Commonwealth of Nations under the banner, “Leaders agree that Commonwealth members are free and equal members of the Commonwealth of Nations, freely co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress.” The Commonwealth now have 53 members with a total population of over 2.5 billion citizens and ranks near the United States, China, or Japan in GDP and PPP.
Steve Jobs created a company that in relatively few years became a trillion-dollar company, designing a computer operating system that was ahead of his competitors, and designed an astonishing number of world-class products, services and apps that allowed users capabilities they’d never imagined.
All of these great advances slipped completely under the radar at the time of their creation. Governments, industry, and citizens were completely oblivious as to what would follow.
The first flight at Kitty Hawk was seen as a sort of carnival ride item that made you wish you’d live long enough to see it come to your hometown, while Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Yes, Henry was that far ahead of his contemporaries.
The point is, all these advances and others haven’t stopped at any time during the 20th century — technological advances are happening right now, right under our noses, just as in the time of Henry Ford — and the next Steve Jobs or Henry Ford aren’t going to stop and wait a few years for the UK and the EU to get their Brexit act together.
For all we know, the next trillion-dollar company or multi-trillion dollar industry might be deciding (this week!) where to set-up their ground-breaking operation and such entrepreneurs are likely to avoid regions of the world where economic instability appears or where regulations aren’t finalized. Dragging-out Brexit = European instability.
It’s not against the UK or the EU… it’s against both.
Both will suffer if a stabilized economy and a finalized regulatory environment are seen to be ‘aspirational’ — which is a word entrepreneurs sometimes encounter in developing nations.
UK and EU leaders should rethink their negotiating ‘strategy’ and factor-in the potential for losing the next start-up, disruptive technology, or multi-trillion dollar industry to a different region of the world, whenever they next meet to discuss Brexit.
Imagine if Europe would’ve ‘had it’s act together’ in previous decades… perhaps Thomas Edison, George Eastman, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Henry Ford or Steve Jobs would’ve started their businesses in Europe instead of America.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, negotiators.
With financing and instant communications available almost everywhere, the global playing field has levelled since the 19th century, so ‘ease of doing business’ and ‘a transparent regulatory environment’ can make all the difference when today’s entrepreneurs meet to choose a location for the next trillion-dollar business.
We’ll soon know if any of this registers with British and European leaders…
As of today, we’re 286 days from the official Brexit date and much remains to be done, and for all the squallering about it, not much has happened. At least, not that the public can see.
Yes, a final Brexit date has been set, Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed to pay a £20 exit fee (or perhaps as much as 40 billion according to some reports) to the European Union, there may (or may not be) an interim period when the UK is partly in and partly out of the UK (and without EU representation during that interim period — even though the UK will continue to pay billions to the EU) no trade deal has been agreed, nor have customs issues been resolved.
And all of it built upon the principle that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ which means that the UK has effectively nothing if negotiations go awry.
Further, the Good Friday Agreement could be endangered if the ‘no agreement’ scenario comes to pass.
Not very confidence inspiring.
Perhaps All is Not Lost
Negotiators have different ways of obtaining agreements and sometimes the most effective strategy is to wait until the end of the negotiating cycle and hit ’em hard with a deal they just can’t refuse just as the last few days tick off the calendar. Which is a legitimate negotiating plan, if, if, if, that’s what the plan is.
There’s something to be said for playing ‘defence’ (watching the other side to get familiar with their tactics and devices) as EU negotiators play ‘offense’ using all their ammunition to try to slow, obfuscate, or completely derail Brexit.
In short, it might be better for the UK to let the EU expend all of its effort — and withstand that barrage — then at the last-minute, the United Kingdom suddenly offers up a trade deal that the European Union can’t pass up.
If that’s Theresa May’s strategy to deliver Brexit to UK voters, it’s a good one. But only if she and the MP’s whose constituents voted for Brexit can withstand the ongoing negotiating and media blitz for 286 more days.
Otherwise, she will fail, and so will Brexit.
Risky (if you have a weak team) and brilliant (if your team is strong)
We shall see…
As European Union negotiators can’t see any reason to support Brexit, they will continue to keep the European Union’s best interests in mind — which is to say, they will try to stop, slow, obfuscate, or otherwise derail the Brexit process by almost any means possible.
And why shouldn’t they feel that way? The EU is a net beneficiary of £8.6 billion annually courtesy of the UK, so there’s little incentive to stop a contribution that is larger than that of all other EU-member countries except Germany.
If there are any Brexit benefits to the European Union, nobody has bothered to tell EU negotiators or EU media channels.
So how would anyone know if there will be Brexit benefits for the EU when the UK government hasn’t mentioned them once? And yet there are likely many Brexit benefits — for both sides — that just aren’t being discussed.
How to Sell a Product or Idea
When you’re trying to sell apples to a potential customer, giving them a nonstop spiel about how much *you* like apples won’t help you sell many apples!
But if you hand your potential customer a hot glass of mulled apple cider and walk them past appealing displays of fresh apples, followed by a pleasant tour through the on-site bakery bursting with the aroma of piping hot apple pies and offer them a tantalizing sample at the exact moment their interest in apples is high, you’ll sell more apples.
If you’re selling cars, you don’t spend your time telling the customer about the specifications of the car and how it can transport you here and there with ease. Any ol’ car can do that.
Instead, you answer their questions about the car, you offer a test drive so they can experience how much better it drives, sounds, and looks than their present car, all of which work together to help them fall in love with the car you’re selling.
If you’re a really smart salesperson, you’ll slap a dealer plate on the new car and let your customers take it home for the weekend so they can show it off to their comrades who will help convince them the new car is much better than their old jalopy.
And have you ever noticed that beer commercials don’t show you endless cans of beer and a quick snapshot of the brewery?
Breweries are highly experienced marketers and they want to show you good-looking people having a great time socializing with their friends and family in a picturesque setting or while engaged in enjoyable activities.
Look at that product placement! There’s the can of beer right beside those sizzling steaks on the barbecue while those great people in the background are enjoying their evening.
Considering a run to the beer store? Well yes you should — because you’re a good person, you work hard, you love spending quality time with your friends and family and you deserve a summer’s evening just like the people on that commercial. That’s the message.
Marketing types call this Feature/Benefit selling, ‘Selling the sizzle, not the steak’ which isn’t about what the product or service actually is, it’s about what it can do for you and how it can make you look or feel happier and better.
What Isn’t Theresa May Doing?
She isn’t selling the benefits of Brexit to the EU.
We know there are many benefits for Britons but even that has been under-sold.
In the early days following the Leave referendum it might’ve looked to Remainers as though Brexit could still go either way, so Theresa May was probably wise to move cautiously at first. But that time has passed. Almost every person and business in Britain wants to get beyond the present period of uncertainty and get on with creating a fresh start for the UK outside the European Union.
The right time to begin crafting a trade agreement that works even better than the present trading system has arrived. And now that we’re at this point in time, under-selling the benefits of Brexit to UK and EU citizens is not the way forward.
What Is The Way Forward?
In a word, Vision.
Theresa May needs to put on her ‘Steve Jobs hat’ and figure out what the best possible Brexit vision looks like from both the UK and EU perspectives.
Starting with a completely clean sheet; What would that look like in its entirety? What would it look like five years on?
If she doesn’t offer an inspiring vision that a majority of people on both sides of the English Channel can ‘buy-in’ to her government will be paddling upstream all day, every day, for as long as she remains Prime Minister. (And that’s definitely a no-fun lifestyle, even for a British PM)
Once the vision has been considered by Theresa May, only then should it be communicated to her Cabinet, while the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) should oversee all other UK ministries and departments as they compile reports that describe what their best-case scenario would look like in practical terms.
Then it’s simply a matter of working to those ideals as much as is practicable to create a Vision Statement that can be released to the public, sans the excruciating detail required in government policy papers.
“This is the Vision we’re working toward…” (Giving UK and EU citizens a view of what a better Brexit looks like)
‘How do you like those apples?’ someone cheekily asked.
The Three Principles Common to all Organizations
- Vision (or Mission)
Without equal weight given to each of those three factors any organization or project will ultimately fail.
It can’t be emphasized enough; Endless discussion about the best Brexit from the UK standpoint are irrelevant to European Union citizens and businesses. Brexit must work for the EU too, or it will be increasingly uncomfortable and expensive for the UK as time rolls forward.
Theresa May needs to find what things will work better for the EU in a post-Brexit world and promote those items on every visit to the EU. If there aren’t any Brexit positives for the EU, she better create some as they negotiate forward to a final trade and financial services agreement.
Without an overarching vision even the best management and leadership will underperform. Perhaps severely.
But as soon as May gives the order to each of her 25 Ministerial Departments and 20 non-Ministerial Departments to submit their best-case scenario (their best hopes and aspirations showing what their jurisdiction could look like five years on from Brexit) and from that she will be able to write a one page vision for each of the 45 departments.
From there she will need to direct the Department for Exiting the European Union to create a list of items that could be seen as positives by EU governments, EU businesses and EU citizens. Those are the apples she needs to sell on every visit to the European Union. And then sell the ‘sizzle’ Theresa, not the steak.
Theresa May must ‘create’ and ‘sell’ (Vision + Leadership + Management + Marketing) a Brexit that will benefit both the UK and the EU and begin to disseminate that better vision throughout both blocs.
Throwing £40 billion at the EU now and (potentially) another £40 billion to obtain a trade and financial services agreement isn’t visionary — it’s ‘buying an agreement’ with taxpayer’s money — which is fine if that’s the only option. But it isn’t the only option.
Getting citizens, businesses, and governments on both sides of the English Channel to buy-in to a grand vision that works even better than the present paradigm without it costing another £40 billion, must be Theresa May’s Number One Priority before the October 2018 Brexit deal-making deadline arrives.
[P.S. to Michel Barnier, chief negotiator for the European Union] Jeez, Michel, for £40 billion shouldn’t the UK have received a bespoke customs deal, a bespoke trade deal, a bespoke financial services agreement *and* a chocolate mint on every UK pillow?