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Graham Jeffery (London, UK)

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Logitech R800 Professional Presenter
Logitech R800 Professional Presenter

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Buttons too close together, 7 Oct. 2010
This device works really well. It fits nicely in the hand and I particularly like the green laser (in preference to the usual red). But, and it's a big BUT, the buttons are too close together. It is a serious design flaw.

I found myself pressing the right-arrow key when I wanted to light the laser. I therefore revealed the next slide too early and wrecked the flow of my presentation. And I did this several times. Maybe I'll get used to it, but I don't want to have to. And any guest presenter will have the same problem.

Fortunately I was borrowing a friend's device. I won't be buying one for myself.

Making Hard Decisions with Decision Tools Suite: Update
Making Hard Decisions with Decision Tools Suite: Update
by Robert T. Clemen
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thorough but academic treatment of decision analysis, 16 Aug. 2010
This book is divided into three equal-sized sections on modelling decisions, uncertainty and preferences. The decision section includes structuring with decision diagrams and decision trees and the process of developing sensitivity analysis and solving the decision problem. The book has been updated a few times, but its recommendations regarding software are inevitably out of date.

The uncertainty section is a good introduction to probability theory and the rules for manipulating probabilities. It describes how one might assess real-world probabilities of future events and continuous distributions, and overcome bias, but the description is thin. The book seems to rely instead on theoretical probability models and introduces the bionomial, Poisson, exponential, normal and beta distributions, material in my experience that is not entirely relevant to real-world decision problems. It also has a chapter on Monte Carlo simulation.

The preferences section is an academic and thorough discussion of utility theory and multi-attribute decision-making. However, it does not really do justice to the complex multi-dimensional trade-offs that occur in real situations.

For a university course I might use this book. For training businessmen, I prefer the much more practical Decision Analysis for the Professional.

Decision Analysis for the Professional
Decision Analysis for the Professional
by Peter McNamee, Mimi Campbell, Bill Roehl, Mary Story John Celona
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A practical guide to making better decisions, 16 Aug. 2010
This book started life as a manual for the SuperTree decision analysis software package. The 3rd edition has been rewritten to be software-neutral and now incorporates the dialogue decision process (DDP) and the concepts of decision quality.

Between this and Making Hard Decisions by Robert Clemen, DAftP is the more practical, and hence better, book for the ordinary professional working with a decision analyst, or as a first text for a trainee decision analyst wanting to learn about decision diagrams and decision trees, and how these tools should be used in real-world consulting engagements. Mathematical theory is nicely relegated to the "Advanced Topics" section and well written for those with a non-advanced mathematical education.

I would have liked at least some mention of Monte Carlo simulation as an alternative to decision trees, but then it is only in the last year or so (DAftP was last updated in 2001) that Monte Carlo simulation has become a realistic alternative to simple decision tree analysis, largely abetted by the development by Sam Savage of the DIST standard for encoding probability distributions.

Rethink, Reinvent, Reposition: 12 Strategies to Renew Your Business and Boost Your Bottom Line
Rethink, Reinvent, Reposition: 12 Strategies to Renew Your Business and Boost Your Bottom Line
by Leo Hopf
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A lifeline for the mature business facing decline, 25 Jun. 2010
This excellent book by former colleague Leo Hopf and William Welter is aimed at people looking at where to go next with a mature business: into decline, or onward and upward with renewal.

It avoids mathematics and analytics but is an excellent description of the decision analysis process applied to a difficult problem. The process of renewal is a complex one involving not just the brainstorming and analysis of opportunities, but also working with the emotions of all the people involved, inside and outside the organisation, and often deeply ingrained culture. Hopf and Welter offer 12 templates for strategic choices to start one thinking and then go on to provide an outline of the steps to make and embed the decisions whether and how to renew the business, and to start the process of making it happen.

The book is highly practical, with lots of lists of things to do and think about, and traps to avoid. It also has lots of case studies stretching back over a century. The only slight drawback is that not all the case studies are listed in the index, so I am going to have to reread the book (probably not a bad thing) and take notes. I'd like to be able to quote some of the examples in my own work with clients.

In these difficult economic times, where maybe it's not decline but survival that is at stake, following the advice in this book can be a business lifesaver.

The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty
The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty
by Sam L. Savage
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every firm needs a Chief Probability Officer, 3 May 2010
"The Flaw of Averages describes a set of common avoidable mistakes in assessing risk in the face of uncertainty. It helps explain why conventional methods of gauging the future are so wrong so often, and is an accessory to the recent economic catastrophe. Once grasped, these ideas can lead us to more effective forecasting and decision making."

Those are the claims of the opening words of Sam Savage's preface, and he sets out to do just that in excellent style. The book is part textbook, part manifesto and part biography, introducing the characters Sam has met along the way and who have contributed to his insight. The textbook is unlike any I have read before. It is dealing with a highly mathematical subject, but in a very accessible and non-mathematical way. Concepts are explained in plain English--I think I will borrow some of the wording for my own consulting practice--with lots of real-life applications and a scattering of brilliant cartoons by Jeff Danziger. The manifesto is a programme for introducing probability management as the key part of any strategic decision-making process.

Savage introduces the concepts of probability and statistics with five "mindles" (easy for the mind to grasp, as a handle is easy for the hand to grasp), in the process exposing a number of "red words" (the first is "utility theory"), technical terms that professional mathematicians and statisticians have used for too long to bamboozle the public. The red words are converted to everyday words that we are already familiar with (eg, "risk attitude").

We are introduced to uncertainty versus risk, where two people might look at the same uncertainty but, with different risk attitudes, might perceive very different risks. An uncertain number is a not a single number, but a shape (a "distribution") with a range of possibilities. Adding together uncertain numbers leads to distributions that are taller and thinner, the effect of diversification (the weak Flaw of Averages). If you start doing calculations with uncertain numbers, be aware that the average output is almost certainly not the calculation done with average inputs (the strong Flaw of Averages). The average (or expected) profit is very likely less than the profit associated with average demand. The average (or expected) duration of a complex project is likely to be more than that implied by the average duration of the component tasks. Finally, and this is where the world economy came unstuck, uncertainties are interrelated.

Savage identifies the seven deadly sins of averaging (actually he identifies eleven, with the twelfth being "Believing there are only eleven deadly sins"). He then explores how uncertainty impacts all areas of life with a wide range of real, illuminating and entertaining examples. Several are drawn from the finance world, both personal and corporate, but he looks also at national security, climate change, healthcare and the difference between the sexes (it's all down to females having a diversified portfolio of two X chromosomes, whereas men have only one).

The solution to the Flaw of Averages is to embrace uncertainty and take advantage of the cheap and ubiquitous computing power that surrounds us. Monte Carlo simulation can allow us to play with thousands of scenarios and quickly and easily see how the decisions we take can affect the distribution of the outcomes we care about.

Savage proposes a role for probability management (and a Chief Probability Officer) to be in charge of developing probabilistic forecasts and ensuring that the same forecasts are used by all who need them. This involves creating stochastic information packets (SIPs) managing a central database of them, a scenario library with relationships preserved (SLURP). If all business units drew their forecasting assumptions from the database, and there are technological innovations that make doing this easy in Microsoft Excel, for instance, organisations could consistently manage the uncertainty face.

The book closes with the comment, "While every organisation faces unknown unknowns, there are also risks somewhere in those organisations that are known, but which are nevertheless not managed. It is these risks, perceived but not managed, that cause most of the destruction." Amen to that.

Corny acronyms aside, this is a great book that needs to be read by every leader making decisions in the face of uncertainty, and by everyone supporting the leader with forecasts and analysis. And every firm needs a Chief Probability Officer.

True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (J-B Warren Bennis Series)
True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership (J-B Warren Bennis Series)
by Bill George
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Use your internal compass to define your leadership, 2 Jun. 2009
Bill George was highly respected for his integrity as the CEO of Medtronic and is now a professor at Harvard Business School where he teaches a required MBA course on "Leadership and Corporate Accountability". George coined the phrase "authentic leadership" in an earlier book. True North sets out what it means for a leader to be authentic, with (if you answer the challenging exercise questions at the end of each chapter) a programme to start a leader (that's all of us) on a lifelong journey of self development to establish his/her authenticity. The book is based on interviews with 125 leaders and is liberally peppered with quotations and case examples from them.

True North starts the reader on a journey of leadership development to understand the key traits of authentic leadership: purpose, values, heart, relationships and self-discipline. George encourages the reader to develop his/her internal compass built around:

* Self-Awareness: What is my story? What are my strengths and developmental needs?
* Values: What are my most deeply held values? What principles guide my leadership?
* Motivations: What motivates me? How do I balance external and internal motivations?
* Support Team: Who are the people I can count on to guide and support me along the way?
* Integrated Life: How can I integrate all aspects of my life and find fulfilment?

With the discovery of a leader's personal True North, he/she is then set up to start the process of defining their purpose and passion and using these to empower other leaders. This transformation marks out truly effective leadership, with results that are visible to all.

There will be those who fail somewhere along the way. Authentic leaders learn from their failures, realign their compass and do better. Bill George categorises those that don't in terms of a failure in some element of their internal compasses, and we just need to look around us at the business and political worlds to see some fine examples. Writing shortly before the world's financial stability started to unravel, the author is almost prophetic.

"What concerns me are the many powerful business leaders who bowed to stock market pressure in return for personal gain. They lost sight of their True North and put their companies at risk by focusing on the trappings and spoils of leadership instead of building their organizations for the long term. Many of those who failed walked away with enormous financial settlements.

"The result was a severing of trust with employees, customers, and shareholders, as public trust in business leaders fell to its lowest level in fifty years. In business trust is everything, because success depends upon customers' trust in products they buy, employees' trust in their leaders, investors' trust in those who invest for them, and the public's trust in capitalism."

The Economist Guide to Business Modelling
The Economist Guide to Business Modelling
by Graham Friend
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction, but not enough about modelling uncertainty, 2 Jun. 2009
This Guide is a workmanlike introduction to the craft of modelling in Excel business cash flow and financial statements, but it could do a lot more in the area of modelling uncertainty.

The strong point of the book is its emphasis on structuring the model and the modelling process. Models tend to take on a life of their own after the initial development, and sometimes even before the first build is complete, and time spent in thinking, planning and design is usually a very worthwhile investment. This is particularly important if there are multiple people involved in the model's design and use, and the book covers how one might organise a modelling project.

The principal modelling task is designing the mathematical model that produces the desired time series of sales, costs, etc, over time, based on a handful of input parameters. The book goes into some detail about the formulae needed to render the different kinds of time series one might encounter in a typical business model, covering areas such as macroeconomics, forecasting revenue (with good discussion of times series analysis and regression techniques), operating costs, capital expenditure, working capital, and funding, along with ancillary issues such as depreciation, tax, financial statements and company valuation methods.

Also welcome are the chapters on the often overlooked topics of testing, debugging and documenting a model. There is an introduction to recording macros and programming simple Visual Basic code, but anyone serious about programming Excel with VBA can find better material elsewhere.

As I said, a good introduction. It assumes some basic understanding of Excel and business terminology, but not a lot else. There are lots of practical spreadsheet examples with the formulae all well explained, although sometimes the text description is a little disconnected from the screenshot. It is a pity the authors did not go further in several key areas.

* The book introduces the concept of Excel range names, but does not do them enough justice. The naming of ranges is the single most important underused feature in Excel, and mastering its use will dramatically reduce the bugs in a model and, if names are chosen sensibly, provide instant documentation and a model that has a fighting chance of being understood by the next modeller who picks it up and has to maintain or update it.

* Sensitivity analysis is covered in just three paragraphs, when this is probably the single most important use of a model. Anyone can create a model that produces an answer (eg, the NPV of a business opportunity) for a given set of assumptions. But we all know these assumptions, if they represent forecasts of the future, are wrong. Regarding the model as a simulation and playing with ranges of assumptions (testing various "what-ifs"), so that you build a full understanding of the drivers of value and risk in the business situation, is where the real value of modelling lies.

* Monte Carlo simulation is again covered only briefly and with a rudimentary DIY approach. There is no mention of the many tools available that can drive a well-designed model through probabilistic analysis.

Finally, I have to comment on the chapter on macroeconomics, which makes use of the sine function to model economic cycles. Given the discussion in the press about the current recession and whether it will be V- or U-shaped (or maybe W- or--preserve us!--L-shaped), this seems hopelessly simplistic for any practical use. This jibes with the rest of the book, which is practical. However, the example does help introduce how to parameterise a time series, in this case with the cycle time and amplitude.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2012 11:02 PM GMT

How to Build Your Reputation: The Secrets of Becoming the Go to Professional in a Crowded Marketplace
How to Build Your Reputation: The Secrets of Becoming the Go to Professional in a Crowded Marketplace
by Rob Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.49

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Build your reputation to earn attention, respect and money, 2 Jun. 2009
Whether you are employed and looking to climb the corporate ladder, or self-employed looking for clients, or an entrepreneur starting a new business, your success is likely to depend on how well other people think of you, that is, on your reputation. Rob Brown's definition is, "Your reputation is what influences people to think, feel and talk about you the way they do." If you follow Brown's advice in this excellent book, you will understand what reputation is, and why it is valuable. You will design the reputation you want to earn the attention, respect and money you deserve. And you will learn how to build, and then preserve, that reputation.

If you get the chance to attend a seminar or workshop run by Rob Brown, grab the opportunity with both hands! He is an exceptional speaker and you will come away with a ton of great ideas for how to build your reputation, develop better relationships and win more business. Better, do what I am doing: read his book, attend a seminar, and read his book again!

It is also refreshing to find a businessman who is not ashamed to mention his Christian faith, in a low-key way, when he writes and speaks, and it is clear that this is the source of his authenticity. I particularly admire his life goal to give away £1 million to godly charitable causes.

The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry
The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry
by John Kay
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating!, 27 Feb. 2009
Don't be fooled by the shocking pink cover. This ain't chick lit!

John Kay is one of Britain's leading economists and thinks extremely well. He also writes extremely well--check out his regular column in the Financial Times too. His book is subtitled "A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry" and it is exactly that. If you are interested in personal investment, and if you want to draw a pension you should be, this is a great introduction written in a clear and engaging style. He is excellent in helping the reader to distinguish the financial salesman (whose sole interest is enlarging his/her personal wealth, with little regard for yours) from the genuine advisor.

I particularly recommend chapter 7 on "Risk and Reward", which explains how one ought to think about quantifiable risks and how they are priced. Modern economic theory (principally SEU = subjective expected utility, and the CAPM = capital asset pricing model) is highly illuminating. You should behave as if it were true, but recognise that it is not. That is, you can take advantage of the fact that most people think irrationally about risk. Chapter 8 on "A World of Unknowns" extends his analysis to include unknown unknowns, again highly illuminating. If every banker had read it we might not be in the mess we are in today.

Of course the book is about personal investment, but the ideas in it should also be at the core of business investment decisions.

Fellowes Powershred DS-1 Cross-Cut Shredder with SafeSense Technology
Fellowes Powershred DS-1 Cross-Cut Shredder with SafeSense Technology
Offered by Ryman Stationery and Office Supplies
Price: £79.99

99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fantastic!, 9 Feb. 2007
I bought this shredder because it was recommended by Which? magazine, and it has lived up entirely to its promise. A little pricey, but it paid for itself immediately I had it out of the box. My old shredder had given up and a 10-cm stack of client-confidential material had accumulated. It would have taken about 90 minutes feeding this at 2-3 sheets at a time into the old machine, especially allowing for the jams caused by occasionally trying four sheets. I cleared this backlog in five minutes!

I now have a nice bag-load of pet bedding. It's a pity I don't have any pets. I shall put it out for recycling and award myself a few green points.

One reviewer complains about the safety mechanism. If you touch the metal around the slot with your finger, the machine will switch off. So don't touch the metal plate! (Touching it with the paper causes no problem whatsoever.)

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