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Learning to Learn

By Conor Kenny, September 2011


When the dawn broke and the recession hit hard, I remember asking my Dad what was the difference between managing in a recession and a boom. He paused, looked at me and in his own inimitable way said “None”

It took a little while to digest this starkly simple truism but it stuck with me. Not only that, it is a compass I intend to employ forever more.

Abraham Lincoln said I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday” Nor do I, but history tells us that eaten bread will soon be forgotten and the lessons learnt will fade into the deepest parts of denial. Cicero said; “to be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child” I fear some children will rise to positions of power and their legacy will be understood too late.

The first shoots of recovery are nervously trying to break ground. This is good news but it is from a very low base. Recovery will be slow, scary and delicate. Carefully nurtured, success will come but there is no room for error, impatience or short cuts.

It’s futile to think about peaks and troughs, highs and lows. It’s not like that anymore, the world has changed. We have gone somewhere new. We won’t be returning to “the good old days”.

Think digital marketing where, in 60 seconds 168 million emails will be sent, 70 new domain names will be registered and 370,000 Skype calls will be made.

Think of the influence of Generation Y who is ‘the’ generation of activists with highly sophisticated radars and a desire to report on everything.

Better still, think of those perfectly good shoes you used to throw out but today, even with a little more money, you understand the importance of the cobbler not the bin man. The world has changed, the market has changed and your hotel needs to change too.

You need to think value versus price.

You need to think about making my life easier rather than selling me more.

You need to talk to me online and not disinterestedly by phone.

You need to excite me not just say yes.

You need to understand me not just serve me.

Above all else, you need to look at your brand, what it says and how it talks to me. Then, you need to ask yourself the biggest question of them all; “What’s your attitude?”


A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting the Chairman of a major UK high street hospitality group. He was calm, successful and had nothing to prove. I was surprised and flattered that he would want our help.

In a beautiful understated office that matched their culture, values and message he was surrounded by two very large recent trophies. Both had voted them No.1 for excellence, service and focus. I asked the obvious question “What do you think we can do for you given that you have just been voted No.1 again?” Like all good visionaries and leaders he saw what I had not yet seen. “Conor” he said “when you are No.1 and especially for two years running, there is only one place left to go”

I got it and I’m still getting it.


As the first signs of recovery peek nervously above the parapet, remember two things. First, ‘quality’ is something you have to do every single day. Secondly, you need to embrace the new landscape, adapt to it and forget dreamy little chats about “the good old days”

As my Dad said; “there is no such thing as the golden years. The golden years are now”


Big challenges help us learn. It’s too easy in a buoyant economy to solve problems by cheque.

As Horace said; “In adversity those talents are called forth which are concealed by prosperity”

Isn’t it time to listen, to learn and show off those talents?

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