The occasionally brutal operating system of a business without blueprint.

Nearly two years ago, I launched Corporate Punk with a piece of writing entitled ‘No Guru, No Method, No Teacher’. It was a signal of intent: my ambition was to build a company that is uniquely useful to its clients, and to do so by starting without a blueprint. I believed then (as I believe now) that culture change is an urgent priority in many organisations, but that most businesses who claim to support clients on that kind of journey are not fit for purpose. The only viable option was to rip up the rulebook and rethink the category from scratch.

We’ve just hit our hundredth working week. Have we built a business that is uniquely useful? The signs are promising, but we’ll only know the answer in about a decade. Success means staying the course.

One thing we do know: the fact that we started without a blueprint means we’ve had to create one as we go.

In many respects, that’s been the hard yards. On top of the highly specialised functional knowledge that we’ve needed to create and evolve, the journey has also been emotionally and (dare I say it) spiritually challenging, not least for me. For one thing, I’ve discovered that I don’t learn easily. In fact, it transpires that I will often learn important lessons only via the hardest possible route – a reality that occasionally leaves even me mystified by my behaviour.

In the end, the last 100 weeks have been the most infuriating, worrying, unpredictable, fascinating, rewarding, and life-changing of my career. To mark this somewhat arbitrary milestone, here are 100 lessons I’ve culled from our work (there are hundreds more, but size isn’t everything). They’re a mix of insights we’ve gathered along the way, things that others have taught us, and principles that I’ve personally held dear for a long time. Every one of them informs Corporate Punk’s operating system. I’m posting them partly for my and the team’s reference, but I hope that you also find them useful, whatever kind of business you’re working in.


  1. Getting uncomfortable upfront removes time and complexity from decision-making later on.
  2. Ignore all unsolicited feedback.
  3. Most people are innately good and kind. The trick is to remember this, even when they have built systems that are bad and cruel.
  4. ‘Business dress’ is a ridiculous concept for the terminally insecure.
  5. Coaching is a mandatory investment: you need to know your blind spots.
  6. Limit your working week to 45 hours. It will drive discipline into your activities, and help avoid burnout.
  7. There is absolute strength in absolute openness.
  8. Fire any client that routinely pays your invoices late: it indicates a lack of respect. (Ministry Of The Bleeding Obvious: hold your firm to the same standard.)
  9. Price is irrelevant if the value is compelling.
  10. Creativity Is Power.
  11. The quantity of chocolate available in an office is inversely proportional to a team’s happiness.
  12. Review partners and suppliers for value added every six months. Say goodbye to the bottom 25%.
  13. Be kind, especially when the news isn’t good.
  14. Doing nothing is often a valid strategy.
  15. Parse the difference between ‘vision’ and ‘delusion’.
  16. Tell your people that you value them. Affirmation is too rare at work.
  17. Demonstrate that you appreciate your clients by refusing to defer to them.
  18. As a proxy for how well a business is doing, growth is overrated.
  19. Well-run firms routinely find new ways to connect fresh-faced intuition to road-worn experience.
  20. Culture is little more than a collection of stories that a business tells itself. When you change the narratives, you change the culture.
  21. The hungry don’t get fed.
  22. You can be as blunt as you like, provided that the purity of your intention is clear.
  23. Track how you spend your time. It has much to teach you.
  24. Every month, spend one hour revisiting your original intention for the year.
  25. The phrase “I don’t disagree” signals insecurity and attempted power hoarding.
  26. The main job of your marketing is to show as much of the authentic ‘you’ as humanly possible.
  27. Your awareness is functioning perfectly well. Ignoring it will not make that gnarly problem go away. You know which one I mean.
  28. Attempts to negotiate are a signal that your value proposition is not sufficiently clear or appealing to your audience.
  29. Problems are an equalizer; the relative size of two businesses is largely irrelevant if they can help each other on equitable terms.
  30. Pick your partners carefully. Your name is all you have.
  31. Punctuality signals a well-run organisation.
  32. Listen to your energy.
  33. Creativity in life feeds creativity at work, and vice versa.
  34. The little things that go wrong offer clues about the big things.
  35. Your ability to add value is innately bound up in your ability to walk away.
  36. Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s stage show.
  37. Practice saying ‘no’ clearly, firmly and respectfully. Failure to do this well is a top three time-waster in almost all organisations.
  38. Get the paperwork sorted first.
  39. Courtesy is underrated.
  40. Breakfast meetings are five times more productive than dinner meetings.
  41. Everything will take longer than you think.
  42. Do not allow other people to be the barometer of your success.
  43. Generosity counts. Whenever you can, pick up the tab.
  44. Distrust anyone who denies that their organisation is political.
  45. Select your projects carefully. At some point, what you’ve done becomes what you do.
  46. If you’re in the service industry, decide if you exist to make mediocre people good, or good people great. They are different businesses.
  47. Have one meeting-free day a week.
  48. Put your health first. You can’t run your business from a hospital bed.
  49. Fire a minimum of one client a year.
  50. Being right doesn’t excuse you from being interesting.
  51. Your choice of PA may well be the single biggest determiner of your success or failure. (Caroline, you rule.)
  52. Diversity is a business strategy in itself.
  53. Promising partnerships can stumble on the prisoner’s dilemma. Be diligent, then make it your mission to act in good faith first.
  54. Forgive the people who let you down.
  55. There is no such thing as a dull problem.
  56. Aiming for perfection is an effective way to strangle brilliance.
  57. Meditate daily.
  58. Your job is to give clients what they need, not what they want.
  59. Plan your finances in decades.
  60. Asking ‘why?’ five times will get to the heart of the problem.
  61. Do not allow clients to dictate your travel or expenses policies.
  62. Mediocrity is a crime. Failure isn’t.
  63. It is too easy to end up mirroring the dysfunction of those with whom you work.
  64. Whether or not a client likes you will have little to no impact on their purchasing decision.
  65. Reserve your whimsical tendencies for your personal life.
  66. Buy an umbrella when the sun is shining.
  67. Working mums are the single biggest untapped source of creative talent in the UK. Collaborate with them and honour their talent, perspective and juggling skills.
  68. Behind the veneer of routine, every day is uniquely interesting if you allow it to be.
  69. Spend 5% of your cash on moon shots.
  70. For most people, work passes by in a fog of boredom, confusion, or both. Helping to alleviate these conditions is good for business.
  71. Pay attention to your spiritual well-being. If you don’t know where to start, read The Power of Now.
  72. Being nice and demonstrating integrity are not always the same thing.
  73. Being consistently good is the best business development strategy.
  74. Being consistently good is harder than most people think.
  75. Get clear on your relationship with money.
  76. Guard against the fact that, if clients don’t execute on your advice, they will not make progress – and eventually blame you for this.
  77. The best teaching moments occur after success, not failure.
  78. Leaders are often blissfully unaware of the emotional wake they leave.
  79. You cannot smother your way to success.
  80. Being present is half the battle.
  81. Despite the helpful prompt in point 27, you are still avoiding that thing you don’t want to do. And yes, you do know which one I mean.
  82. Believing that ‘my business is my baby’ is weird, and primes you to make bad choices. (For the avoidance of doubt, your business is your vehicle.)
  83. Two mobile phones, please. Clients get the number for one.
  84. Your lawyer is a business partner, not a leech.
  85. “Embracing failure” is oh so easy in principle, isn’t it?
  86. No-one ever got out of bed to ‘create shareholder value’.
  87. Hire slowly. No, really slowly.
  88. Precious few clients say thank you. Being one who does commands loyalty.
  89. Recruit one advisor to your Board who has no business experience at all.
  90. Empathy can blind you to the real issues.
  91. Advice is cheap, but insight is priceless.
  92. Be your own judge: do not allow those who pay your bills to arbitrate the quality of your work.
  93. Disruption is overrated.
  94. Text message is not an acceptable professional communication tool.
  95. London is not the world.
  96. Celebrate every success you have, and not always in ways that involve alcohol.
  97. In the absence of communication, your team will always believe the worst or the weirdest thing.
  98. Know what you’re bad at, and hire someone else to do it.
  99. Know what you’re good at, and hire someone who’s better at it to challenge you.
  100. Relax in the knowledge that, in the end, none of this will matter come the heat death of the universe.
Share this: