Start with What Works!
Conversation with Andy Bass of BassClusker Consulting to discover how companies can leverage the often overlooked capabilities and wisdom they already possess to best effect.
In this episode of ‘Interlinks’, I sit down with Andy Bass from BassClusker Consulting! Discover the power of leveraging what you already have, tapping into your ‘Hidden Gold’, and Andy’s proven ‘start-with-what-works’ philosophy. Plus, dive into the wisdom from his best-selling books and glean insights from his rich experience. You don’t want to miss this!
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Patrick Daly: Interlinks is a program about connections, international business supply chains and globalization, and their effects on our life, our work and our travel in recent times. Today in the show, we’ll be talking to Andy Bass, Managing Director of BassClusker Consulting in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, in the English Midlands. Andy works with leaders to boost productivity and profitable growth with a focus on using resources they have already. And in that helping to find ways to exploit, as Andy puts it, their hidden gold. To that end, he has written two books, which have been commercially published, one titled Start With What Works, A Faster Way to Grow Your Business, and Committed Action, the Three-Step Method to Inspire Your People to Take Ownership and Get Results. So, welcome Andy. And, thank you very much for being here with us today.
Andy Bass: Oh, thanks Patrick. It’s nice to be here.
Patrick Daly: So, how are you keeping?
Andy Bass: I’m keeping well, thank you very much. Finally, we’ve got some sun here and it’s made a huge difference.
Patrick Daly: That’s great. Whenever we chat, Andy, we always touch a little bit on what’s going on in UK politics and Irish politics. And, we thought we’d arrive of Rishi Sunak things were going to calm down. But, the fun and game seemed to be going on. So, what’s going on over there?
Andy Bass: Oh, well, I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s going on, except it just seems like a lot of things that needed to play out, continue to do so. There’s a lot of garbage collection going on.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. So, anyway. Back to our stuff. To kick off, could you tell me a little bit about your career today and how you came into the world of consulting? And, how you came to establish your own boutique consultancy practice?
Andy Bass: Yeah. Sure. I started out in computer science. And, in fact I was involved in research, in computing in the previous incarnation, or maybe even two incarnations ago now of AI, which obviously is now … Maybe we’ll talk about it later on. But, I was involved in what is now called good old-fashioned AI, which wasn’t as intelligent as all that. And so, I had an academic career-
Patrick Daly: Were these expert systems? Is that what they call them-
Andy Bass: Yeah. That’s right. If people remember that, expert systems. And, actually the area that I was involved in is still very valid and valuable, but we perhaps wouldn’t hype it up to say intelligence. We’d just say it was very clever computing, which was planning systems. So, a modern application, if people think about container port and figuring out whether or not a particular container is at the top or the bottom of a pile, and how are you going to get it out and get it onto the right ship … That was the sort of application that we were envisaging. But, it isn’t as, if I put it in quotes, “intelligent,” like human intelligent as the sort of ChatGPT you’re seeing now. It was just very clever computing, if you like.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. That sounds almost logistical and optimization-type models?
Andy Bass: Right. I think now you would put that stuff in that category. People who are doing that now wouldn’t see themselves as being in the AI lab. They’d see themselves as being in … I don’t know what they would call it. But, you’re right. Yeah. It’s more of an application area than a leading blue sky part of research these days.
Patrick Daly: Mm-hmm. And then your career from there?
Andy Bass: Yeah. A funny thing happened, because I started out doing two really interesting subjects at university, which were computer science, just when computers was becoming more and more of a thing, and ergonomics, which is the application of psychology and human sciences to technology. So, actually when people were starting to figure out … Apple Macs were coming out and things like that and things that people take for granted now, were what-you-see-is- what-you-get type of Windows and everything was still quite new. It’s amazing, isn’t it, when you see what Apple are doing now with these goggles that have just come out?
But, at the time we thought it was very, very cool. And, the guy that had been my tutor ended up in the business school at Aston in Birmingham. And, they needed someone to teach AI to psychologists. And, my research was going more towards systems thinking and those sorts of areas. So, anyway. I ended up in the business school and I learned a lot about teaching, because I can assure you that the last thing that my psychology students wanted to learn about was computing or AI of any description. So, I had to learn about lecturing, which actually comes back … Maybe we’ll talk about the book later. That was actually the germ of how do you engage people that are not interested in stuff?
But, my thing was, people who know about how academia works will know that they’re like you to plow a furrow. And, in fact, that was what they said to me at one point. “Andy, what furrow are you plowing?” Literally. And, I thought, “That’s very helpful for you to say that to me, because I now know that we need to part company, because I don’t want to be a plow horse.” I didn’t out it quite like that. And, actually, I left. I still do executive education work at Aston and other places as well sometimes. So, we stayed friends, because I got-
Patrick Daly: Have you come across Professor Edward Sweeney in your-
Andy Bass: Yes. Of course, I have. Yeah. Yeah.
Patrick Daly: [inaudible 00:05:20] Edward’s been on this show. He’s moved to Edinburgh.
Andy Bass: Right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. So, we briefly probably passed in corridors a few times when I was going in to do the exec ed. But, the thing was that I came across an interesting book by someone you know, Alan Weiss, called Million Dollar Consulting and bought the book just off the title, because sometimes you can judge a book by its cover it turns out. And, I’ll be honest with you, I read this, I mean, we’re talking about 30 years ago. And, I thought this was fascinating, but not really my world. But, I liked the book.
About 10 years after that I saw the book on a shelf again, pulled it off the shelf and went, “Right. This is really interesting now.” So, I’d learned a huge amount that I wanted to see if it applied in business outside of the university and the computing and the ergonomics, which is very, if you think about it, very user focused, customer focused perspective, the systems thinking. I was very interested in communication, because of getting ideas across to students as much as anything else. And reading Alan’s book, I thought, “Hang on a minute. There could be a market value for this stuff beyond what an academic was getting paid.” So, I got in touch with him and formed a company with a friend of mine, Paul Clusker. [inaudible 00:06:36] you always say, “We used to be business partners, but now we’re friends again.”
And, yeah. So, we started working with businesses and putting these ideas into practice and learning how to help them with their problems. And, 20 years later, done quite a lot of it and developed a particular approach to it, which I’m very enthusiastic about. It’s become more and more, which is this whole idea that clients, businesses have often got the answers already.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. So-
Andy Bass: [inaudible 00:07:10] Yeah.
Patrick Daly: Is it where you help your clients to think about what they already have to improve their condition? But, you do stress, I see that you do stress that it’s not just about this [inaudible 00:07:22] doing more with less. So, what exactly is the distinction and how does that manifest? And, how do you explain that in your books? And, maybe tell us about your books as well.
Andy Bass: So I say, help businesses to find their hidden resources so they can do more with what they’ve already got. Right? So, the idea is that you’ve paid, you’ve already made investments, whether that’s financial investments, or just like the sweat investments in the business. And, that I just found more and more going into companies, that they already had resources that they were overlooking or not applying enough. I’ll give you a couple of very, very different examples just so people have got a clue what I’m talking about. And, there are many, many. And there’ll give big company examples, because people have heard of them and it can relate. But, actually this is just the same in small businesses, even individuals. But, if you think about Lego, everybody knows Lego. And, probably a lot of people know that Lego has a huge adult user community. Lots of grownups, very enthusiastic about it.
For many, many years, Lego deliberately ignored that community, because they had a belief, which was, “We are a children’s toy company. So adults have almost no business playing with Lego because it’s for kids.” We’re going way back now, when in the early 2000s the company went through its reinvention turnaround, one of the things they did was to say, “Hang on a minute. This is crazy. Adults, I’ve got a lot more money to spend on Lego. They’ll buy bigger kits, they’ll be more sophisticated. They could even advise us on what makes a great kit.” And they’ve even hired designers from their user community, and that’s led to successful products and so on. So, when I say a hidden or an overlooked resource, that user community would be one example. A completely and utterly different one would be, you know chickpeas has got that cloudy water in it?
Patrick Daly: Yeah.
Andy Bass: You can use that as an egg white substitute.
Patrick Daly: Oh, okay.
Andy Bass: You can distill it a bit, reduce it down, and you can make vegan food products out of it. In fact, Unilever now do that and they were just throwing it away.
Patrick Daly: So, it’s like a natural thickener, is it?
Andy Bass: Yeah. Yeah. It actually behaved like a … You can make meringues and stuff out of it. It’s even more than just a thickener. And, it turns out that I categorize in my book like 17 different types of resources, some of which are things like insights that you have into the way your customers use your products, insights into the way that buyers and sellers might interact in a market, products that might have a more useful application in a different area, things that your frontline know that could improve your processes, or again, could meet a customer need that you’re ignoring. There’s a whole raft of them. But, I’ve always found it fascinating. And, very often people know that they’ve got them, and yet they look almost through them. Do you want another example, which I think-
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Go ahead.
Andy Bass: So, if people have got Netflix, there’s a series on there called Restaurants On The Edge, which is a restaurant turnaround program. It’s a bit like Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, but without the swearing. And, I’ve only watched one episode, and on this episode it was a Maltese footballer by the name of Justin Harber, and he had a restaurant. And, he was very into seafood, so he was flying oysters in from France and langoustines in from Norway. These are the best ones, because he wanted it to be the best seafood restaurant. But, consequently, because of all the flying all his stuff in, he was losing money handover fist.
So, the turnaround plan essentially was to point out to him that 100 meters away from his front door was a seafood harbor that was selling sea fish, that had been caught that morning out the Mediterranean Sea. But, because his mindset was oysters and langoustines rather than whatever the local fish was, he was missing it. Now, it was so egregious that you might think they almost made the thing up. I don’t think they did, but the point is, we all do this to some degree. Me included, by the way. It’s not that I see things in some special way. It’s that all of us can miss or come to-
Patrick Daly: [inaudible 00:11:26] We take things for granted. Take things for granted. Yeah. Yeah.
Andy Bass: Yes.
Patrick Daly: I’ve had the experience of people pointing things out to me and me going, “Oh. I didn’t see that.” And something of value that you have, but you don’t notice.
Andy Bass: Yeah. Yeah. And, this is exactly it. I’m astounded by how many times clients have already got the answer. And, we’ll talk for half an hour and ask different questions from different angles, and they’ll realize that the very thing they said they didn’t have that they were looking for, they actually have.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Yeah. [inaudible 00:11:59] So, what kind of people or what kind of companies are your clients? And how would you say they’re better off after having worked with you?
Andy Bass: So, I’ve worked with some big companies like Deutsche Bank and Aon, and then the rest, my sweet spot really, I like mid-size companies where I can deal directly with top management, without having too much politics or decision-making resistance. If you know what I mean? Where we can make decisions if we find things. And, in terms of how they’re better off, well, it could be new products that are easy to bring or evolutions of a product or service. So, that means quicker new revenue.
And, it could be on the internal side that their people can improve their operations. So, we’ve done factory improvement using these ideas and I’m not a factory guy. I’m not a Six Sigma. But, we’ve done stuff where you could see a very, very big before and after in a factory, and it shows up in on-time delivery, or it shows up in health and safety metrics or … So, concrete measures. But, what I’ve done is created a situation with whoever’s running the plant, whereby we can really tap into what the frontline know. And, I think a lot of lip service is paid very often to tapping into the insights of the frontline, but often there’s just gold there. And there are ways to frame … And, I talk about it in the book. So, there are ways to make it safe for people and open for people to be able to share those ideas and bring them and apply them.
Patrick Daly: The book you’re referring to is Start With What Works?
Andy Bass: Yeah. The stuff we’ve mainly been talking about would be so far would be in Start With What Works. That’s right. Yeah.
Patrick Daly: Okay. And, people can find that book, I guess, on Amazon and other online bookshops?
Andy Bass: Right. Yeah.
Speaker 3: 93.9. Dublin South FM.
Patrick Daly: So, we’ve been through a very turbulent period over recent years, including Brexit, COVID, war in Ukraine and so on. But, how have you found that this has affected how businesses think and operate in the UK? And, how consequently are you relating to them differently in your work?
Andy Bass: Well, I think a couple of things. So, one is that people … I mean, I don’t know if it’s the official word of the last year or so, but I would’ve thought the word “pivot,” was one of the words. You know they have these words of the year in these magazines. So, everybody talks about pivoting. And, if you’re going to pivot, then you need to understand the capabilities, the resources that you’ve got, and how they might be able to produce new value. So, I’m finding that work I’m doing is really helping people to inventory what those resources are and create the conversation lower down through the organization as to, “Well, what have we got and how else could we use this? And, how would it create more value for our customers?” And getting that conversation going creates, again, another buzzword. It creates that agility, the ability to be able to seize opportunities and do all those things that we know you’re supposed to do. But, sometimes I think people can talk about it a lot, but we try to give people a roadmap for how.
The other thing I think is there’s a lot of changing work patterns. So, people are still trying to figure out how much working from home. I think that the positive for those people that embrace it is inevitably you have to think more about the output that you’re getting, the outcomes that you’re getting from people more than how much time they are necessarily at their computer or at their desk. So, there’s less counting of inputs and more accountability for outputs.
And, in fact, I was talking to a guy last week who runs a shared service center for a bank who’s saying it’s great in a way, if people need to go and get the kids at three o’clock or something, they can fold that into their lives and they’ll say to me, “But, I’ll work till 7:30,” or something. He says, as long as it’s getting done. And actually he is very comfortable with the fact that people can take responsibility for their timing and stuff. Now, I think there are those that can flex to that management style and those that can’t. The people that can are the people that are more outcome-focused. So, for the most part, I think a lot of people are seeing that as a good. I mean, what about you? There is a counter argument, isn’t there, that you can’t mentor people so easily?
Patrick Daly: There are pros and cons to this. But, what I find with the younger generation is that they really want and expect this flexibility. And, given the way the market is, that if employers don’t adapt to that, lots of them are going to be in trouble, because lots of them are already in deep trouble, but regard with skills and projects that are held up, because they can’t find the people with the requisite skills to do them.
So, I think it’s going to be a situation where employers are looking to attract people and therefore they’re going to have to be a lot more flexible than they have been. And some like the one you’re referring to there. There’s a guy who’s obviously open to it. And, those whose mentality is different, they’re going to really struggle I think. So, I guess it’s within sectors, different countries, I think of different attitudes to this as well. So, it’s an interesting transition that’s playing out. But, definitely the way people want to work and the way they build their lives, they build one integrated life. I think it’s going to be a lot of interesting changes.
Andy Bass: Yeah. I did hear somebody who said that their daughter had just left a job, which she liked, because she got another job where she could have full flexibility as to how many days she was in or not. [inaudible 00:17:42] … was the reason to move and the money was pretty similar.
Patrick Daly: So, my children are in their mid-twenties, early thirties, and their peers, you hear all the time, “Oh, my friend who’s working in XYZ company, he’s going to Barcelona for a month and he’s going to work remotely from there.” So, apparently, employers are offering people the opportunity to work from wherever they want in the world for one month a year. The people are taking off, going to Barcelona, going to Lisbon, they’re going to The Bahamas or wherever they want to go. And, that was unheard of in our day.
Andy Bass: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I think there is a bit of a generalization that executives want to be in the office and everybody else doesn’t. I do think that there is a quid pro quo, which is beneficial to employers, that if people are going to go, “Oh, yeah. Cool. I can go and work from home or work from Barcelona or something, that inevitably it puts a lot more focus on what you’re producing. You better come up with the goods then is the other side of it. And, that will work well for some people.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. It’s interesting. PWC produce this annual CEO survey, which you may have come across. And, a large proportion of CEOs around the world … I can’t remember the percentage, but it was a high percent, 40%, maybe even higher, who said that unless their business models change, the companies will not be economically viable within 10 years. What would you say are the major strategic issues facing businesses in the coming years that those CEOs are concerned about?
Andy Bass: AI. I mean, we’ve said, I was involved in what we used to call AI, and it makes what is available to us all now, which is obviously not going to be absolutely on the leading edge, makes what we were doing look like children stacking little bricks with the alphabet on it. I don’t think people understand. So, I think that throws everything up in the air. And, the first thing that people have got to do is learn what actually … Some people are obviously well up on it, but I think a lot of people are a little bit sticking their heads in the sand.
I’ll give you an anecdote. A guy who’s a very senior guy I know, a recruiter was going to be on a panel one evening and he just dropped me a line saying, “Hey, you’ve got any ideas for things I can drop in tonight for this panel that I’m going to be on?” So I said, “I’m really busy, but just give me a second,” and I put it into ChatGPT. And, I said, “What about these talking points?” I said, “Give me talking points for a senior recruiter for a panel discussion,” and sent them over. He said, “Those are fantastic.” And I said, “It took me three minutes. How long would it have taken one of your assistants to do it for you, if you’d delegated it to them? Half a day?” So, I think that’s probably the biggest one. And then, of course, going into more the multipolar world and energy, those are probably the two, energy and climate.
Patrick Daly: Maybe switching now, slightly, rhythm, what would you say is the most important life lesson that you’ve learned, that’s stuck to you throughout your career? So you’ve been in academia, you’ve been in business, you’ve been in the private sector, you’re running your own business. So, along the way, what would you say is the most important life lesson that you learned?
Andy Bass: That’s a great question, which is always something you say while you’re just stalling for time, isn’t it? The other one from consultants is, “Well, it depends.” I think from a business or career point of view, you got to have … And, this is more and more true. You’ve got to have very, very wide source of inputs and get multiple perspectives on things. We were talking about Aston University, and I was just chatting to that alumni organization just recently. Someone had said to me, “You should have a friend in every decade.”
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Interesting.
Andy Bass: And I think, “Okay. 30 years ago? Nah. It wouldn’t have really mattered very much,” but I think now you really do. So, that’s a great thing to have. And the general principle is however widen your … Widen your range of inputs. Get different perspectives on business decisions, career decisions. Obviously, you still have to make your own decision at the end of the day. But, I think it’s probably that, Patrick.
Patrick Daly: That is really, really interesting, because as you move through your life, if you’re not careful, you lose track of the generations coming behind you, the decades coming behind you. And now that … Well, I’m in my fifties, I’m not sure about you. [inaudible 00:22:36] So, if you just focus on your own, you’ve got the forties, the thirties, and the twenties behind you. You’ve got three decades coming behind us. But, it’s very easy to lose track of, right?
Andy Bass: Yeah. And, it’s very easy to dismiss. Oh, I don’t know. If I say, “Have I dismissed TikTok?”, I’m sure there’ll be people that’ll be laughing at me that I’m talking about TikTok, because it’s probably old news. But it’s so easy to say, “Oh, I don’t do this. I’m not interested in that.” Like the guy that I did that thing with ChatGPT, the talking points, “Oh,” he says. “Oh, no. I’ve not got into that at all.” Well, he really ought to. Yeah.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Yeah. So, you’re a successful person. You’ve built a career, but as we know, success isn’t a straight line and everybody faces setbacks in their career and their life along the way. So, how do you approach setbacks when they come? What do you do? What do you say to yourself and so on, to get yourself back on track when that happens, inevitably, as it does?
Andy Bass: I actually think it took me quite a long time, honestly, to really get the idea that setbacks were inevitable. And that [inaudible 00:23:49] There’s a range within which, if you’re doing business, things are going to go wrong. Sometimes you think you’ve got a piece of work and it doesn’t happen, or a project hits the political roadblock. These things happen all the time. And, I think I was a bit of a slow learner, if I’m really honest. You’re nodding. So, I don’t know if you recognize that.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Well, the reason I’m nodding, is because I do recognize it. Yeah. It resonates quite a bit with me.
Andy Bass: And so, I think that that’s a maturing process. Maybe we have the idea that things should go smoothly, and we know-
Patrick Daly: I don’t know whether you agree with this, but it may happen to those of us who come up with a technical education. So, we’re mathematical and analytical. And, you have a formula and you put this with this and this happens and so on. But, the real world isn’t like that. And, perhaps subconsciously that gets into us and we think the world is like that, even though in our heart we know it isn’t. But, then we struggle, we struggle perhaps when we have to deal with it.
Andy Bass: Yeah. No. I think that’s exactly right. And I think obviously computer science education really exacerbates that, because okay, you find bugs in your computer program, but the fact is that you know that if you get the logic right it will work. And it ought to work. And there were consistent rules by which it’ll work. And the world outside of the computer doesn’t behave like that. So, I think that’s right. I think that’s taken me a long time to realize.
So, I am I think, more accepting than I used to be of those things. And, I think sometimes just you have to have things that inspire you or whatever. And, if you go back to them, you can consciously reset, consciously reset. A bit like the advice they say, if your computer doesn’t work, switch it off and switch it on again. So, sometimes you just have a couple of days off and then-
Patrick Daly: Reboot. Reboot-
Andy Bass: Reboot. Exactly. Reboot and start again. And, the faster you can reboot yourself-
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Yeah. And then outside of work, in terms of hobbies and interests, what kind of things do you like to do, get up to when you’re not working?
Andy Bass: Yeah. Well, I’m a very keen guitar player. I’ve been playing the guitar for 45 years or so. Unreconstructed classic rock.
Patrick Daly: Did you ever play with Sean Cross? He’s another business consultant who plays the guitar.
Andy Bass: Oh, yes. Yeah. I know he actually has a photograph of himself jumping like [inaudible 00:26:13]. Yeah. I like classic rock and I’ve played in bands over the years and stuff. Haven’t got time really for that just at the moment. Me and my brother, we used to have a band together. We used to have a Rush tribute band, if that would mean anything to anybody. And we keep talking about it, putting the band-
Patrick Daly: Back together?
Andy Bass: [inaudible 00:26:32] … together.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Come back, Sean.
Andy Bass: So, I’d like to do that. Yeah.
Patrick Daly: Are you reading, listening, to anything later you find particularly inspiring, that you’d recommend? Any podcasts or anything like that?
Andy Bass: Well, I really love Rory Sutherland’s work. I don’t know if everybody knows Rory, who’s the vice chairman at Ogilvy? And, he’s got some great Ted Talks. Big Ted, not TEDx, but the main stage Ted. So, he’s a very, very original thinker about obviously advertising, but business more generally, human behavior. He brings a lot of behavioral science, behavioral economic stuff into understanding behavior and influence and as well as that. So, he wrote a book called Alchemy, which is the surprising power of ideas that make no sense, which is about how sometimes an idea doesn’t fit our theory, but actually is right, which is an important idea. And, he also wrote a book called Transport for Humans too, which I really like, because he has some very counterintuitive solutions to things like public transport problems. So, if you want something that will make you think from a different angle. And, he’s very entertaining too. So you’d find if you looked at him on YouTube, you’d enjoy it.
Patrick Daly: Rory Sutherland?
Andy Bass: Rory Sutherland. Yeah.
Patrick Daly: Excellent. So, how can listeners find out more about you, your books, your business and so on?
Andy Bass: So, the books are, Start With What Works and the other one, Committed Action. So, those are available at Amazon, et cetera. And, they can visit my website. And I’ve got podcasts, one which will soon feature your good self and articles and the usual sorts of information, and some sample chapters and things. That’s at bassclusker.com.
Patrick Daly: Excellent. So Andy, many thanks for being with us here today. It’s been a pleasure. We could go on chatting to you forever. But, as always, we’re-
Andy Bass: [inaudible 00:28:24] Yeah. It’s always great to chat.
Patrick Daly: We’re beaten by the clock. So, thanks again. Look forward to-
Andy Bass: Thanks so much for asking me. Cheers, Patrick.
Patrick Daly: You’re very welcome. You’re very welcome. And, thanks also to our listeners for tuning in again today. And, be aware that if you enjoyed this episode, you can find a full series of over 120 episodes of Interlinks on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Acast, and other major podcast platforms. Until next time, keep well and [inaudible 00:28:51]
Interlinks is a programme about the connections, relationships and supply chains, that underpin the globalisation of our modern world.
In each programme, we interview people from around the world including entrepreneurs, executives, academics, diplomats and politicians to get their unique perspective on globalisation as it has affected them both personally and professionally.
There is a little bit of history, a dash of economics, a sprinkling of business and an overlay of personal experience both from me and from my interviewees from around the world.