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The Book

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Chattering Class

Prince Harry

Even republicans approve, surely?

Microwaving tea

Recommended by scientists, apparently. Disgusting

No televised election debates

Disappointing; we were rather looking forward to May vs The Sturge

Broadchurch

Olivia Coleman = nailed-on Future National Treasure

Spring Bank holidays

Too close together! Very bad!

Bin-mageddon

“I queued for THREE BLOODY HOURS at B&Q for a new recycling bin! The entire town’s in CHAOS”

S-Town

To be listened to whole on a long journey for maximum effect

Using a proper paper map

Strangely satisfying

The “Flash” Flash ad

It’s back! Possibly the best ever singing dog in an advert ever

Crap tacos

Reheated, with too much chilli: middle-class kebabs, basically

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The Periodic Table of the Middle Class
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    The Can Do!s

     

    Phil and Sue Can-Do! are really positive people, and dedicate their lives to, as they like to say, thinking out of the box. Both divorced from partners they married too young, they are in their late thirties and seriously impressing their friends with how well their business is doing.

    Actually, let’s be a bit more accurate about that “impressing”. With their business LiveGood!, Phil and Sue are prompting, in most of their friends outside the HR training industry, feelings of amazement and even bewildered jealousy. Who would have thought, when they were entertaining guests at a party yet again with yet another corporate-psychology role-playing game, that they would even make a living out of this stuff? Anyone who imagined they would make enough to employ two staff and have had their garden redesigned as a “living thought-space” would have been mad.

    OK, as the Can-Do!s might say – let’s do some background. Both Phil and Sue previously worked in marketing but about 10 years ago decided to change their lives with self-improvement classes. That led to an interest in training at work, and before they knew it, they were running their own small “enabling” business, LiveGood!

    LiveGood! “is geared to improving inclusion, increasing input, and developing empowerment and ideas-flow in the workplace by introducing counter-intuitive creative thinking and processes”. It improves and enhances all the intangible assets you can’t put on a balance sheet, like idea-fertility and communication flow. Its basic product is Phil and Sue’s “adventure days”, during which they use various exercises and role-playing to encourage managerial staff in large corporations to think creatively and improve their working relationships. Often the staff are cynical (“inhibited”, says Phil) but senior managers enjoy it, and keep re-employing them.

    And, although some old friends are sceptical too, Phil and Sue have many admirers. Deborah, who changed her life by retraining as a masseuse (she met Sue on a course called “Lateral Success”), thinks they are “21st-century revolutionaries”.

    Perhaps because they are so interested in crossing the “frontiers of the future” in their mind, Phil and Sue’s radical thinking is not reflected in their home, which is a four-bedroom detached property in a commuter-satellite town 30-minute train ride from a conurbation. It has a hi-tech kitchen, but elsewhere the interior is strangely messy for people who have several acronyms to help people keep spaces organised – an easy one is FREE UP!

     

    File paper

    Remove anything you don’t need

    Engage immediately with incoming matter and

    End your engagement with it in one go.

     

    U are important, so remember to keep

    Perspective!

     

    Sorry, as Phil would say, just a little ideas overflow there – back to the house. The furniture is mismatched, with ergonomic chairs, and a few pieces from the more expensive IKEA ranges; neither Phil nor Sue can be bothered obsessing over interior design (they love the bit in American Beauty where Annette Bening worries about the beer spilling on the couch – it says so much), and believe homes should be “living machines”. The kids like this; it’s one reason why they seem so relaxed.

    The kids situation is complicated, with Sue’s daughter, Gabe, living at the house but Zack and Megan, Phil’s children, only visiting at weekends and holidays. Phil and Sue, however, feel this works. They have talk-sessions every so often, in a special “crash-pad” area of the kitchen where everyone can raise issues. Now the kids are approaching puberty they are beginning to find these excruciating, so invent problems in order to avoid the embarrassment of long silences.

    Phil’s son does find dad’s work quite interesting, though this is partly because of the brilliant gadgets he uses. Phil and, to a slightly lesser extent, Sue are very keen on things they can use for training, and have boxes of the stuff. Much of this isn’t really needed, but both secretly wish they did a job that needed more tools (see opposite). It was this wish that led Phil to adopt his Bluetooth headset. He also has an impressive set of Japanese kitchen knives, and loves the technocracy of the Audi A4 (Sue has a Citroen C3 Pluriel.)

    Outside work, they love travel – they’ve just been to Central America for the third time (the islands off the coast of Panama, amazing), and are going to Laos at Christmas. They’re also interested in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and maybe even Iran, though right now might not be such a good idea! They bring back stuff that they use in training to show how different objects can be perceived differently by people. When not travelling, they try to pick up new skills, and when not picking up new skills they devour non-fiction books; thoughtful, psychology-based stuff for Sue, and motivational thinking for Phil.

    Clothes are not always a great giveaway because the Can-Do!s are not style conscious, but they are distinguished by a penchant for classics just outside of the trend cycle; Phil likes gingham shirts, moleskin and hiking shoes, while Sue often wears crew-neck sweaters from UNIQLO and Joseph trousers. They are far more interested in communication technology. As well as loving their iPhones (“if you’re not getting your news on your mobile,” they tell clients, “you’re getting ‘olds’!”), they have hundreds of friends on Facebook, keep a well-updated though little-read blog on their website, make the most of LinkedIn, and really love Twitter, each of them following hundreds of people. Friends are surprised to note that, despite this welter of information at their fingertips, both Phil and Sue will be inexplicably uninterested in the new events that everyone else is taking in, until they see an online discussion about it a few days later. When Megan once challenged his ignorance, Phil explained there is an American theorist who talks about modal frames of network information. “God, Dad!” she said, “I was only talking about Girls Aloud.”

    Phil and Sue are part of a generation of people who, in the 1990s embraced new ways of thinking about work and business, essentially combining both New-Age ideas that had emerged in alternative culture in the 1970s and 1980s with thinking from psychology. They find in each other the same interest in new ideas, and the same conviction that they can, in their small way, change the world. There is something evangelical and religious about their world view, perhaps because it depends on changing the external world by changing individual outlook and personality. Their generation has explored those ideas in myriad ways, but for those in business, like Phil and Sue, all this feels deep – a way of rolling work, lifestyle, personality and leisure together. When they talk about consumers and work and business, they feel they are talking at one remove about the fundamental truths of human nature. It is true that many people dislike this idea, and are quite happy to retain what the Can-Do!s call “compartmentalisation”, and equally true that their approach to work is sometimes ridiculed (the Can-Do!s get annoyed, for example, by “buzzword bingo” and Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock) but the fact is, cuts or no cuts, much modern business loves “creative thinking” and sees it as a way forward, so the Can-Do!s are here to stay. They have brainstormed the future, and it works – and it’s pretty good fun, too!