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How To Manage Corporate Governance and Innovation in the Digital Age with Tony Fish

Filed Under: Innovation | Podcast | Technology
Date Published: February 11, 2020
By: Claire

How business and innovating were some years ago, how did that change in the digital era, and how we are now having a glimpse of a new change coming?

In today’s episode Claire is talking with Tony Fish, an entrepreneur who over the last 20 years has founded and grown multiple digital and tech companies, and writing several books on the world of digital in the process. They talk about how he came to entrepreneurship as a career, rethinking corporate structure for the digital age and a mental model you can use to help you prepare for the future of work.

Meet Tony Fish
Tony Fish

Listen to find out:

  • How going for a career as employee isn’t the only path.
  • A different perspective on the topic of sharing ideas and collaborate.
  • The true about patenting.
  • A conversation about economic systems and how things are changing.




References and links:

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Transcript of this episode:

Claire Whittaker: Today on the Innovation in Business Podcast I am joined by Tony Fish. Tony describes himself as thriving in complex, ground-breaking & uncertain environments; bringing proven judgement and decision-making experience. He is an entrepreneur who over the last 20 years has founded and grown multiple digital and tech companies, writing several books on the world of digital in the process.

His current focus is on imaging a board meeting in 2025, rethinking corporate governance models, data economics and dealing with volatile situations. We talk about how he came to entrepreneurship as a career, rethinking corporate structure for the digital age and a mental model you can use to help you prepare for the future of work. It’s going to be a good one!

My name is Claire and Over the last 9 years, I have worked in innovation teams across industries including research, manufacturing, retail and technology. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the downright ugly when it comes to innovating for customers. Now I, alongside my guests am sharing these learnings with you to help you avoid the mistakes and capitalise on the learnings to grow your business with innovation. This is the Innovation in Business podcast and without any further ado, here’s my conversation with Tony Fish, Founder of Digital20.

Welcome, Tony, how are you? Are you having a good morning?

Tony Fish: Good morning, Claire. I am Thank you very much. I’m having a very good morning and it’s delightful to talk to you.

Claire Whittaker: Yes. Thank you for being our first guest on the innovation in business podcast. I’m really excited for the discussion we’re going to have today, talking about your work with Digital20 and all of the wonderful things that you’ve been up to over the last few years.

Tony Fish: Very excited and also to hear more of your stories as we as we talk through

Claire Whittaker: Indeed. So you have a fascinating backstory, that I think is going to be really interesting to hear more about because you’ve never actually been employed. Am I right?

Tony Fish: That’s Right, I’ve managed to avoid that one.

Claire Whittaker: And how have you done this? Tell me everything immediately.

Tony Fish: The easiest one and it’s just that, you know, me and the schooling system never quite worked out. And I was one of the kids who who the school structure of learning by rope and doing those things didn’t work with my learning style and who I was. So you know, I left school with virtually no qualifications and one of the best ones is I don’t actually have an English level, much the frustration of my dad who made me sit at five times. And because I had no English level, and really no other qualifications, you know, employment wasn’t really an option for me. So it was a case of, you know, you’ve got to go and build your own business and fairly much that’s how I ended up doing it. Not by choice, but by necessity, I suppose.

Claire Whittaker: Interesting. So, you say it’s from necessity, but I get and what was that leap like? Like what was it like to make that decision to suddenly decided to go into business and how did you find?

Tony Fish: I didn’t. There was no decision. It was that’s what you did. It wasn’t a purposeful choice. You know, if you want to go down the pub with your mates and have a beer, you need cash. And you know, the point of getting cash is do jobs. So you start off, you know, doing whatever you can. So I started out as a car mechanic, and I was a pretty lousy car mechanic, but you know, cash and it got through things and you just did jobs and started on the process. And, you know, that took me because of a natural bent towards electronics into computing, built computers. But this is back in 1990, when you really really did build computers. And then ended up in TCP IP, and then ended up building a whole, you know, pre web online business, which wasn’t called online because that didn’t exist as a word. And it was called electronic home catalogue shopping. And that was sort of, wow, here’s an idea. We could raise financing for it. And we ended up selling it.

Claire Whittaker: And what did you do with that business in the end? And like how did that kind of lead you down your path towards the things that you’re doing nowadays?

Tony Fish: So, on 93 we raise some money, from john Genki advisor john Jenkins using john Bentley and Herman Hauser. That thing got listed as an FX listing, that part of the technology got sold off to Web TV with Microsoft and part of it got sold off to Oracle. And yeah, so by 97, which is by the end of the sort of the time of the story, we have sold everything and yeah, you know, and then Web TV got sold on for 770 million dollars. So yeah, interesting times.

Claire Whittaker: Very interesting times what was the most interesting part of it?

Tony Fish: I think actually ever seen. Because I knew nothing. But nobody did. And that was the fun of it. We literally were making everything up as we went. The only thing I suppose that people knew and understood, which I didn’t, was financing, and how to finance but even then, What we did is financing you couldn’t do today. And actually, it was right at the period, but it was it, you know, you couldn’t repeat it.

Claire Whittaker: See, I guess I like it’s really interesting. Like everyone was doing everything. So it must have been like a really creative environment to be involved in and like lots of different ideas and innovations like, how would you kind of describe that feeling? how did you experience this? And what was it like? I’m just interested to kind of dive into this a bit more and understand a bit more about this time.

Tony Fish: I suppose it was chaos is the easiest way to describe it, that that lots of things bubbled up. And partly because, you know, because the web browser wasn’t there really. And there was no Google so there was no search. Did you know you got printed magazines which would follow things. So you are listening Covering stuff, you know, one or two months behind, or sometimes a lot longer behind when somebody had done something, there was no immediacy. So quite often you’d go and build something and then find somebody else had already done it, or you were building something. And then other people have come knocking on your door going, we’ve just read about it. It’s like, that was like four months ago, you know what, what happened in four months. But that was that was the reality of a massive delay between I suppose concept or idea and actually reality of turning it out. So much fun, It was a lot of fun.

Claire Whittaker: It does sound like a lot of fun. It sounds a lot  like some more of my background in collate chemical research, you often find that the project that you’ve been working on, and you’ve just made this big breakthrough and that’s taking you years is just someone published it the week before.

Tony Fish: Yeah. But then you know, then you learn all sorts of interesting things because actually comes back to your Didn’t your notebooks, and people can’t just claim prior art because they’ve published something actually, so much stuff is stolen from other people. And they don’t reference the right works. And suddenly you turn up and you’ve got your notebooks and you’ve as long as it’s documented improved, you know, reality is sometimes they have to hand over ideas, patterns concepts. Yeah, their first publish is no longer a good enough evidence.

Claire Whittaker: See, this is really interesting because there’s a lot with technology and how you how you like claim it, and because it’s developing so quickly, how do you kind of delve into this a bit more and like, understand where things are coming from and who they should be attribute it to? Because you get a lot of stories, you hear a lot in the media about people stealing technology and like stealing all these different innovations and Ignoring patents or getting around all of this things, so I guess maybe back when it was starting, it was you just found out and you didn’t realise, but now with it being a much more immediate thing, and you can get access this information a bit quicker, like how is that impacting the way that it’s developing? And is it is this actually a good or bad thing for people looking at building these new technologies?

Tony Fish: spot on questions and the things that I think so many people struggle with on a day by day. And you know, as you said, Claire, in your experience with the chemistry industry, it’s not that the tech industry is discovering something new. Actually, it’s kinda like discovering what lots of other industries have been through. And you go back to what medicine was, kind like the same thing, trying to discover operations and the way to do things. So collect lots of society have been through the very same experiences, but for some reason tech thinks it’s the first, which, which I always find rather interesting. We’re actually, you know, there’s lots of good case studies we can go and learn from.

Claire Whittaker: I agree, I’ve often thought this with the idea of ethics in tech. And that people seem to think that there’s no, there’s no prior art for the concept of like ethics.

Tony Fish: Yeah, well, there isn’t apparently, you know, it’s all brand new, because we’re doing it in tech, But I want to go back to something you did say which was it’s about this question of stealing idea. And people have a very particular bent and interpretation of what that means. And and the example I’ve used for many, many years is that you’re, you know, you’re sat there, and you’ve come up with this great idea. And the great idea, and I’m looking around me at the moment on my desk, and the great idea is going to be I think people need a mouse. And so you basically pile off, you design the mouse, and then you go and share the idea with the mouse with lots of people and the threat, obviously, somebody’s going to steal your idea and run away with it. And what they don’t realise is that you’re on a journey. And so actually somebody next your idea of the mouse, and the reality is what you’ve already discovered is that when you turned up and chatted to people, they can’t like the idea of the mouse, but they didn’t want a mouse what they wanted was the mouse pad. Hmm. And actually, so what you start building is now the mouse pad, and therefore then you start sharing that idea and somebody else now has nicked your mouse idea and they now need the mouse pad idea. And actually what you would really, really found Is that what people wanted was the keyboard. So you start building keyboard, and therefore and then you share that around and people Nick that. And actually what you’re on is a journey. And eventually you reach the end of that journey. And suddenly you discover that actually what actually all society needs is a platform. And that platform is not a mouse or a mouse pad or a keyboard, it was a pen and a piece of paper. Because the pen and piece piece of paper allowed them to do anything in any way. And you could give the pen and piece of paper to an artist and you’ll get something to a lawyer, you get something different to an accountant, you get something different to you or me you get something different to a child, every child you get something different. So pen and paper became You know, it didn’t matter. They were they were tools. They weren’t about the output, whereas the mouse and keyboard until you got to have particular ways of using it, and it restricts you. Hmm. So it’s about that journey. And too many people get obsessed that they think they’ve reached the end of the journey and they don’t share and they quite often products and services never come to the market. And actually, the more you share your products and service and idea, the more you discover that actually there’s an awful lot of people who are on the same journeys.

Claire Whittaker: And so do you think that’s a way to drive better innovation is to share more and get more people involved in that sharing process?

Tony Fish: Well, I believe that, an awful lot of people don’t, but yes, that’s where I come from. And that’s partly, you know, man doesn’t actually own the air we breathe, we don’t own the land we stand on. We don’t own the lithium that’s getting mind we don’t own your etc, etc, etc. And neither do we own ideas.

Claire Whittaker:Yeah, I I’m very much aligned with you in terms that I believe that having more opinions and greater diversity is a really good thing. I guess the question is, why are people afraid of that? Like, why do you think these people with innovation who have these ideas are afraid of? I’m assuming they’re afraid, and that’s why they’re not sharing.

Tony Fish: So if I put my cynical hat on for a moment, and and you know, this is one lens, and this is one way to interpret it, you have an entire industry, legal industry, which is taught, basically, it will earn money by providing defence to you. And, you know, fear, uncertainty and doubt sales, and we know it sells and it sells very, very easily. So it’s far easier for them, because what they’re after is fees. They’re on a they’re on a time in a day, right? And they get fees and so by creating fear, uncertainty and doubt in your mind, That you have to do this for protection purposes of we go. And, it’s a very easy sale. So you’ve got a you’ve got a proportion of society whose income depends on you going into that that fear cycle. And it’s a very easy thing to sell as fear that obviously if you don’t protect your idea, okay, you’re not going to get the money out of it. Yeah. And reality is that isn’t absolute catastrophic lie

Claire Whittaker: Okay, so if it’s like, if it’s a lie, why is it alive?

Tony Fish: Why is it alive? It’s really simple, because if you do discover something seminal. And you patent it. And suppose you patented a pencil, imagine you couldn’t get that time. And you know, you suddenly own the patent of the pencil and a pencil, you know, or a pen or a piece of paper or something like that, which is pretty platform. What you find is that actually the rest of the world already would want it and the very big Powerful companies in the world actually just need to use it as part of their business. And what they will do is they will hold you up in court forever, because it’s cheaper to hold you up in court than pay the licence fees. And the lawyers on the other side who have now written the same defence to create the pattern, actually now sits on the other side, working out that actually in the defence, and what are the other side defence prosecution is they make more money in that area than they do ever writing the pattern. So if you do discover something, which is super, super, super valuable, either you will not be able to hold it as a patent because you’re it’s unpatentable. Or the actually everybody else will hold you up in court because it’s so unique. So then you end up with this sort of minor bucket of stuff, which is Yeah, you own a pattern and it all looks protectable. But actually, all you’ve got to do is break the first clause. Yeah, if you can predict the price clause around it, and why are there so many patterns because There’s so many different ways of doing it because there’s so many interpretations and first causes. So there is, that’s why I say it’s a lie, you do not own something because you own a pattern or is it and it’s neither protectable. Because the big boys if they want to hold you up in court to prevent you actually licencing it or pay your licence fees, they can do it. Suppose, straight economics, you turn up, you think you’ve got something that’s really valuable. Suppose it’s worth 10 million, there’s a licence fee every year to a big company, yet they could hold you up in court every year for 30, 40, 50 thousands?. You just do the economics and say for 10 years, actually, I spent half a million quid over 10 years. And actually versus 10 years ago, I would have given you 10 million. So the economics are incredibly stupidly simple.

Claire Whittaker: I guess going against like the negative of patterns to kind of pick up on another point you said is that, they in many ways drive more innovation, because someone comes up with something good, they patent it. And then people want to iterate on it, to be able to use it and make the patent so and that from that perspective, they can be quite useful.

Tony Fish: So hence the reason I said one lens. And I totally agree with you. There is and it’s the joy of almost society and you touched on ethics, there is no right and wrong to any of this stuff. And people who are obsessed that they have an answer, can I can I sit there going on, like, just don’t think you understand complexity or judgement?

Claire Whittaker: Yeah, exactly. And I think one problem that we have in society is people want everything to be really black and white. And more often than not, it’s not. Lke, very few things are black and white in terms of the ways that you make decisions about them.

I’d like to touch upon some of your the work you’ve been doing most recently with your Digital20. The work you’re doing right now is looking at Digital as it’s wild, and trying to understand what that means for us. And like if as these things kind of fall into place, and you things come along. What does That look like and what does that mean

Tony Fish: Yeah. And partly, therefore, which a world will come to is, is how do we deliver governance in this new place? And what I mean by governance is how do we actually provide assurances to individuals that there’s somebody who’s accountable and responsible. And we know from all the media reporting that kinda like everybody know, everybody wants the upside, but nobody wants to take the downside.And kind of like, at some point, we’ve got to grow up. And that’s what these I think these stars are all about, which is this piece of growing up.

So the first one is Larry Fink, who’s the chief exec of BlackRock, BlackRock being the world’s largest fund. They have several trillion dollars of money, which they invest on behalf. They can’t like all the most powerful of all of the funds in the world and the largest of them, and everything right to see your letter every single year. And I can another time go through the past few letters. But the last one, which is December 19. It’s very much focused on, we have to create sustainability in ecosystems, but we’ve got to build it on what’s being turned ESG, which is environment, and social and governance. So you’ve got the world’s largest fund, saying that financial control is no longer good enough. We have to have equality across finance, environment, social and governance. The roundtable of the US, which is the Business Roundtable published a report in August last year. And this is 150 of the US is largest CEOs of all the names we know. And every year since 1978. they’ve written that the purpose of business is deliver shareholder return last year, they said the purpose is to create sustainable ecosystems. The world’s largest fund, you got the world’s largest CEOs. You’ve got professional Professor Daniel Arial, who’s the irrationally predictable guy who wrote several books. He’s working on a whole series of proofs that you only need one person who’s corruptable to create toxic and craftable societies. Why that becomes interesting is that you’ve got the world’s largest starting to say, we’ve got to have purpose. But you’ve got on the other side of it, we’ve got this discovery that actually humans are the very people who’ve argue against purpose. Another star that’s coming into alignment is Brad Smith’s work, who’s the president of Microsoft? He wrote a book back in the last year, which is called tools and weapons. And it’s how do you create ethics and culture in a company to make sure you build tools, not weapons, brilliant book, you’ve got Ben Horowitz, of a 16 said fame. One of the better and best VCs around and he wrote hard things which which was absolutely superb book but this one is equally Good, if not, I think slightly better, because it’s what you do is who you are. And it’s all about culture, ethics, data and complexity. And if we don’t get alignment between what we do it actually there’s a lie to who we are. And we’ve now that we’ve got transparent your data you cannot hide. McKinsey and every one of the other big consulting groups have now published reports in the last six months on culture and sustainable ecosystems. The last couple of stars is that the corporate governance and auditing community is in a worldwide crisis. It’s being massively written about and the central role of audit fundamentally doesn’t work. So corporate governance, in the way that we’ve built it is not doing what we need, because it doesn’t allow people to be challenged and it doesn’t make people accountable. It just says people have to do certain things. And last one is done. Which has just happened. And you know, that was all about stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world. So you’ve got lots of the world’s largest businesses, organisations, funders, venture guys, all starting to talk about actually, culture and purpose are back in fashion. And what that means is it’s going to be different this time to how it was back in the 80s when it was lost, basically in fashion, because this time, we have immutable data. Yeah. And that one tiny little bit of change means that if you sit there as a director, and claim something, actually the rest of the world runs around and says, Now you didn’t. And if you as an organisation have brand values and say, we’re going to do this, and you don’t, suddenly the data is there to prove it. So you are now massively more accountable and society is making people more accountable and we look at the climate change. initiatives that are starting, people are making bold claims, but actually you’re going to be held accountable. So suddenly, we’re seeing individuals holding companies to account which they’ve always tried to do as pressure groups, but now we’ve got data. And that’s a whole different world. So this is why there’s a part of implications that come from it. And effectively most of them is the way that we’ve always run organisations has kinda like been a bit of a we can hide and get away with it, too. Right now, we’ve actually got to grow up. We’ve got to, if we are going to say we are going to do you know, we were chatting earlier, Claire about recycling, reuse and reduce. And actually just saying recycling is not good enough. Actually, I need you to make sure that when you design a product that it can be reused. And if you are going to do that, your site is going to hold you accountable to it to it. And if you don’t design products that can be recycled. reused, why would society want to carry on perpetuating those businesses? Were actually it goes against their very beliefs about sustainability. And this is I think the interesting bit, which is Digital’s next victim effectively, is, you know, either the hierarchy or governance, and those two are actually completely linked. So we’re in really interesting times of change.

Claire Whittaker: This is very interesting, like conceptually, an agency, there’s a lot going on, you can feel it when you’re out on the high street when you’re talking to people and how passionate people are, and how some people are starting to change their behaviours. I guess my question now is like, Where does your star and that what you’re doing fit into this?

Tony Fish: So I’ve been doing two things, first one is talking to as many people as I can, and thank you for allowing me to do voices off and people appear and go, are you this is brilliant, we’re totally aligned. Here’s my word set to describe what you’re doing and I go fantastic because word set You know, I’m not gonna fight wars over world, wars over words, what we need to do is create communities who are interested in doing something about this. I’ve been writing a fair amount about it. And I’m trying to work out and it is the honest thing, like I’m trying to work out, is this a platform, which actually we could create as almost a community and encourage corporates to use it as their reporting tool? Or is this an investment philosophy? And actually, we need to go and find 100 companies who are going to cannot do lots of different parts of it, and create a, you know, a sustainable ecosystem about the reporting and governance to communities based on what companies are doing. I don’t know. And that’s why sharing this is so exciting.

Claire Whittaker: So the the purpose is to really like get the message out there, get more opinions understand what this could look like, what it should look like, and then thinking about how do we hold companies accountable to that?

Tony Fish:  Yes, and What’s great is there’s a lot of companies on this, you know, already starting that journey, in terms of of providing platforms and services to look at this.

Claire Whittaker: So where would you like to see this go?

Tony Fish: That is such a difficult question, because I actually I don’t know. In an odd way, I think it’s about finding a community of people who go, you know, what, we want to be part of a change. And it’s, it’s a changing the way capital and capitalism works to create what we want, as opposed to what we’ve been given.

Claire Whittaker: So, if we’re thinking about the idea of corporate sustainability or responsibility within a digital age, are there any kind of common threads or frameworks that you’ve seen that do look quite good that people can kind of jump on and iterate and improve?

Tony Fish: So the answer to that is yes. And knowing again, it all depends what you’re actually looking for, if that makes sense. And I’ve been building a whole repository of those types of materials. I got one this morning. On effectively in an ethical iOS, which is fascinating, interesting, but its relevance to most people. I just can’t understand. But what he’s proposing is absolutely outrageous in terms of it’s stunningly beautiful.

Claire Whittaker: What are some of the most interesting points about it, to will bring this to life a little bit more

Tony Fish: The interesting parts of it is, and I’ll use another slight story to make a point, which is the difference between the millennials and the baby boomers. The baby boomers for most people post war, what they’ve enjoyed is unprecedented capital growth, unprecedented pension growth, unprecedented falling in pricing, and effectively a luxury of life which really has never been seen on the planet, which also corresponds to the various themes. Things like which were published in sapiens, a number of other people have used which is, you know, we’ve seen health improved, we’ve seen wealth improve, we’ve seen fitness improved Within life expectancy improve, and we’ve seen illnesses for and we’ve seen, effectively vaccines almost eradicate certain things around the world. So we’ve seen a global change in the period, the baby boomers have been alive. But as the baby boomers kind of like believe that they they got it right, and what we should do is perpetuate their lives.

 Then you go and talk to the millennials, and they go, Well, actually, most of you are divorced, miserable, overstressed. You’ve created more social injustice, you’ve created more diversity and well, so the poor have got poor and the wealthier have got wealthy. So the banding has moved, not everybody has done quite as well, and the next generations, they will have no pensions, then the next generations, they won’t actually have houses, the next generations won’t have the same benefits you’ve had. So we can’t just take your model and replicate it because it’s not getting better and better and better. Actually, we see in the social problems, they’re just getting worse and worse and worse. So you have this very different series of us. The issue being that the baby boomers and their generation, effectively still control policy, politics, voting, and a number of other big aspects around the world. Yet the millennials who are saying excuse us, we’re going to have to inherit this. We want a voice haven’t got enough of a voice right now. So the issue is about some of these ethic, low SES and some of the things coming along. They’re actually coming from the millennials going, we cannot reject that baby boomer. mortal. And actually, we want a much fairer society which has much more sustainability. And actually, guys, you’ve completely natural the planet. We know we’ve got to do something to take it back and it is not piddling around at the edges while you carry on getting your pensions. Yeah, so some really angry voices and rightly so, are actually starting to create ways of going, we’ve got to do the how, which is what you were saying, Claire, and you know, you know, hold on you, love it.

Claire Whittaker: So what do you think it’s going to be? Some of the, like the innovations that will come out of this? How do you think that’s going to look? And do you think it will all be around there like ethical and fixing existing problems?

Tony Fish: No, for me, and it’s kind of summed up very much in what’s happened at Davos, and the World Economic Forum, and a lot of publishing, which has been focused on this model, and the model is the circular economy. The circular economy being that, you know, effectively, we stopped taking more in and we start effectively reusing what we’ve got.

Claire Whittaker: It’s kind of like the bores bikes.

Tony Fish: And within this circular economy, the difference is, it’s not a linear economy. It’s not a supply chain. And so many people of colour, like they’re taught, even in school and economics today that the supply chain and effectively Michael Porter’s work of value adding and the value chain, is the way to do it. But what Larry Fink is saying is that old economic model favoured one person, which was the largest person at the end of the chain. The youngest person at the end of the chain basically was driven by shareholder return. So what they did is they absolutely nurtured the rest of the supply chain or value adding chain, basically to achieve their own goal. That is a that is no longer sustainable. So what we’ve got to do is turn around this is what everybody’s starting, say what they talk about, which is the sustainable ecosystem. The guy at the end of the chain owes a duty of care to everybody else in the supply chain to become more sustainable and survivable. So it quick example of that would be, you know, the, the supermarkets have for many years utterly natural milk pricing. And therefore, you’ve ended up with dairy farmers and various other people in that supply chain who have literally hung on by the skin of their teeth. And what he turns around and says, No, no, no, no, no, you you basically have destroyed and therefore, the farmers have had to take certain decisions, not by what they know is good, but because just to survive. That is no longer good enough. And you’ve got to change your practices. And that goes across so many aspects of society, and the people who are coming along and saying how we’re going to do it are the millennials.

Claire Whittaker: I think the circular economy is a really For me, it feels like going backwards to some extent, or at least how I envisioned it used to be like way back when I like learning from the past, but like with a new twist on how we’re doing it.

Tony Fish: Okay, and you know what you said earlier? Excuse me with some of your farming background. Totally agree. You said farms managed, you know, the seven year cycle with all their crops and their fields. If this is you know, man understood it completely.

Claire Whittaker: But then we got greedy.

Tony Fish: Society got greedy. I think he’s, you know, and part of the greed is the interconnectedness. Because if you go back and say look, shareholder return is great. And the reason we love shareholder return because the person behind the shareholder return is a shareholder. That shareholder is a fund. That fund is your pension your You are self perpetuating your own system to make sure that you get a good pension. And this is where the millennials are coming again. But we’re not going to get a pension. So that system doesn’t work.

Claire Whittaker: Well, it very nicely loops back into that point. You said about the guy from Microsoft’s their director, who’s done this, you only need one corruptible person in the system.

 Yeah, so. So the Microsoft guy is Brad Smith, who’s the president and that’s tools and weapons. The guy before that Daniel Ariel, rationally predictable guy. And his work is just brilliant. Yeah, and his work is on one corrupt person crops they basically corrupt a corporate culture.

Claire Whittaker: And that seems to be what happened. And now we can kind of bring it back. And I at least try or at least,look at the systems.

Tony Fish: And why Love about Daniel’s work is that what he does is basically is about foregrounding. So, by putting certain constraints on you, I, I’m literally going to crop the decision I want you to make, because I’ve actually given you the wrong environment to sit in. So it’s actually not that the person makes the choice. It’s the corporate makes the choice by saying, you’ve got these KPIs, you’ve got this form of governance, you’ve got this etc, etc. and therefore the behaviour of the person, even though they want to do something different is forced into that piece. So this is why he says that the person is really not trying to be corrupted, but what you’ve done is providing a framing where they have no choice.

Claire Whittaker: Yes. And if you see it all the time. I’ve seen it so many times with people, it’s like, we need you to deliver this goal. And the goal is designed in such a way that really there’s only one way you can do it. But that might not be the best way, or the best thing to do in the wider scheme of things.

Tony Fish: Yeah, the example I like to us is marketing. Yeah. So the cult, the corporate company policy is we’re not going to abuse your data. Everybody goes fantastic. Love this company. Then they turn around and say, actually, to marketing unit, we need you to market to a million people. And we’re going to opt in everybody into that piece so you can meet your target of marketing to a million people. Because if you don’t reach a million people, you’re not going to get a bonus. And as I excuse us, use, should should draw you shouldn’t have people in you should opt them out. Ask them if they want to opt in, having asked them if they want to opt in Then ask if they want to do this and actually go through several stages that the person can sense properly before we start to market to them. Well, no, no, no, you can’t do that. You know, we need income, we need revenue.

Claire Whittaker: Because if we don’t hit our targets, we get in trouble. It’s fear based. People don’t want to be bad, but they’re forced to be by their own fear.

Tony Fish: Yeah. And actually, because we’ve created an environment where people now have a mortgage, if you haven’t got a job, you can’t pay for your mortgage. So they become fearful of losing their job. So what’s better? Do you turn around to your partner, and knock on the door in the evening and say, I’ve lost the job because I was morally correct and said I wouldn’t do something. Or do you say, I’ve just got to take it. And actually, I know it’s wrong, but actually, for my family, it’s the right thing to do.

Claire Whittaker: And that’s a difficult choice to make. And that’s a hard thing to ask someone to do.

Tony Fish: But most people don’t consciously make it, they just accept it. Much like, and I know this is a travesty to say But much like, effectively racism and sexism was sexism was in the 70s. It was acceptable, and therefore everybody just thought it was acceptable. And now it’s been called out. Right? LeBron goes, we did what?

Claire Whittaker: I know. It’s interesting talking to my mom about sexism in the workplace when she was younger, she was just like, it just wasn’t a thing. And to me, that’s madness. Like that they get but to her, it was just normal.

Tony Fish: Exactly. And that shows how wrong it was because it was normal. You have to accept it and how dreadful is that

Claire Whittaker: It is, it’s good that we’ve moved on and we’ve come to a much better place and we’re going to continue moving on and see things develop and seeing like new ways of ideas. coming through and these ethical frameworks. I guess, I know we’ve we’ve got to wrap this up shortly. So, before we do that, I just love to hear your if you could say one thing to everyone listen to this, that you don’t like your take home message what you would want everyone to know, what would that be?

Tony Fish: I haven’t got one, I’m going to go the other way and go actually find find your purpose and follow it. And I write a lot about how you go about trying to find your purpose.

Claire Whittaker: And where can people find out about finding purpose? Because that’s such a, that’s such a big thing. Like, for me, trying to find my purpose it’s such a big question, and it feels like you have to really know. So how do you go about knowing?

Tony Fish: So I’ve written several posts that either on my LinkedIn account or on my medium account, and they’re both Tony fish, they are easy to find. And I think it’s that even that phrasing, there’s one purpose, there isn’t your purpose change continuously. So it’s about one accepting what your purpose is currently. And going back and reflecting on that on a fairly regular basis.

Claire Whittaker: And I think that’s a good take home message from this conversation as a whole. Each of the topics we’ve touched on is like, it’s not where you start. It’s how you go through this journey and how you find different things. Ultimately finding your purpose, but also when it comes to innovation when it comes to developing the idea of ethics and the digital world. It’s about Continuing to move forward and developing your thinking and that being okay.

Tony Fish: Yeah, yes. And there’s a quote and I apologise to Matthew Syed, who wrote rebel ideas and I forget his quote slightly wrong. I apologise to him to up front and somebody will correct me. But it says something like success is no longer about talent and knowledge and skill. Today, it’s about freeing ourselves from the blinkers and blind spots. And harnessing critical ingredients basically create cognitive diversity. And hence, that’s why purpose becomes really important because if you understand something that you’re under the moment, you can actually take away some of the blind spots by exploring the things that don’t actually come to you and, hey, it’s where we’re off to next. That’s what humanity is going towards.

Claire Whittaker: Tha is really exciting.

Tony Fish: It is really exciting. I tell you, what, I’d love to be Millennials right now cuz I think they just gonna have a wild time,

Claire Whittaker: Thank you so much for joining me today, Tony. It’s been such a great catch up I’m sure we’ll talk again, if you are happy to.

Tony Fish: absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for asking me and I look forward to speaking again soon.

Claire Whittaker: Have a great day now.

Tony Fish:  Bye bye.


I'm a systems and automation consultant based in London with a background in tech, project management and system design. Over the last decade I’ve worked for top companies including Amazon running programs and launching products across the globe.

Now I want to bring everything I’ve learned about implementing systems to scale to your business.

I have helped entrepreneurs double their profit while working less through the implementation of systems and automation.