What I learnt in the Cold War

For those of you that were born in the 80s there was a time before Russian businessmen owned Premiership football clubs. A time when the East and the West were involved in an ideological nuclear standoff, and a 16 year old from Bournemouth joined the Royal Air Force to work on Tornado bombers.

The lessons that I learnt locked in a bomb shelter, wearing a gas mask maintaining the readiness of a nuclear armed bomber have stood me in great stead for the rest of my life and business.

“In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace.” — as Sun Tzu says in the Art of War
In the same way that a Formula 1 team will endlessly practice pit stops, we would spend days fine tuning the refuelling and re-arming of our aircraft to make the operation as smooth and quick as possible.
Throughout the Cold War we constantly prepared for a war that never came, although we did for some reason practice dropping bombs on deserts, funny how things work out!

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – George S. Patton
Some people won’t put a plan into action until every single detail has been examined, refined and re-examined. Preparation and planning are good, but if you overdo it you may well miss the opportunity.
One of the key factors of Alan Sugar’s success was in getting innovative, new products to market quicker than his competitors.
Back in 2012 I launched a magazine in two weeks, from concept to print. We could have spent weeks or months perfecting the plan and exploring every possible eventuality. If we’d done this we’d have lost the power and energy of momentum. Our plan was executed immediately and with vigour, and it looked great.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” — Sun Tzu
You have to have your motivation right, if you are demoralised and demotivated it comes across and people will notice.
You must believe in yourself and your service or product in order to sell it to others!

In the RAF we were a very close knit team, we knew that we could rely on the other team members, even now 30 years later we are a team and I received nothing but support from them when I came out as transgender.
When I started my own business I had no team, and no support network, networking gave me the friends that have become my team and support.
Networking is not just about selling, use it to build a network!

You never stop learning. Be the best you can at what you do but be prepared to ask for help. Go to seminars, read books, practice your core skills but don’t be scared to call in a specialist to help with skills gaps.

When you’re servicing a £20 million bomber (1980s prices!), honesty and integrity are essential.
Everyone makes mistakes, the key is to spot them, rectify them, and be honest – better to lose face and fix the problem than to risk the lives of the crew by covering the mistake up.
If you are honest and conduct yourself with integrity you will earn the trust of others, this adds to your credibility and people will be more likely to do business with you.

I spent years manning bombers, loaded up with nuclear weapons protecting us from the Russians, I’ve now got a Russian for a dentist. The IRA attacked my base in Germany and now we’re at peace.
Competitors aren’t always the enemy (although of course sometimes they are), sometimes they can be suppliers or collaborators.

Over the years I’ve known a few members of Mensa, with IQs off the board, but most of them had no common sense at all, I place a great deal in common sense.
You may know every single last piece of data about your profession, you may hold numerous qualifications and accreditations – but do you approach your business with common sense?
Data is great but also use your feelings to guide you as to the right direction.

Travelling the world with the RAF I saw many different ways of life, indigenous Eskimos in Canada, Romany beggars on the streets of Sardinia, the Bedouin muslims of Saudi Arabia.
Be open to others, respect them for their differences and incorporate ethical values into your business – fulfil your corporate social responsibility.

Servicing aircraft is all about procedures, they are the safety net that ensures vital steps don’t get missed.
By creating procedures you can increase consistency and efficiency. Create the procedure, refine it, see where there are redundant or wasteful steps in the procedure and work to eradicate them.

Once you’ve got your procedures you will be free to think laterally to solve problems. Your procedures are the safety net that allows you to innovate, safe in the knowledge that everything is covered.

Use the best equipment and resources (you can afford) – in the days before government cut backs it seemed like money was no object.
Sometimes our choices are limited by budget, but it can a be false economy to chose a cheap and nasty website over a better expensive one, doing your own accounts rather than paying an accountant or getting a client to take your photo with their camera phone rather than using a professional.

Commit to what you’re doing completely but keep your eyes open for other opportunities.
Opportunities may only present themselves once so grasp them with both hands, regret at actions you didn’t take can last a long time. All of the work I’ve done with Peter Doherty, leading to photographing Oasis, Kasabian, and now The Libertines – all sprang from two very small moments. I was asked if I wanted to photograph Pete at a press conference, this clashed with a football match which had been cancelled five minutes earlier.
At a subsequent gig I photographed Babyshambles’ drummer Adam – at midnight, in an alley, for 60 seconds. This set of photos led to me working with Babyshambles and in turn to photographing all of the other bands.

Know what your mission is and be prepared to execute it vigorously, but be flexible and aware enough to change it if and when necessary.
Decide what you’re doing, the objectives and how you will implement them, if you don’t know what you’re doing how will potential clients?Butbepreparedto modify your mission if circumstances change. Changes in clients’ needs, the market or your skills can all be reasons to adjust your mission.
Above all don’t have a mission statement full of fuzzy, buzz words that mean nothing!