Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The wild side of love

Consumers are neck deep in information. That’s the grim truth of twenty-first century marketing. Consumers often know far more about a product they are considering than the people on the other side of the counter. They’ve researched, compared and consulted, and I believe what they are hoping for now is an experience. Some fun, some intrigue, maybe a little romance. If this thought strikes a chord with you, crack open Cristina Nehring’s book A Vindication of Love: Reclaiming Romance for the Twenty-First Century.

What I like about this book is her tough view of romance. This is not some sickly package of sweet-nothings. Romance as far as this author is concerned is full of passion, high on emotion, sometimes stormy, and not always successful. In short, romance is a vital part of life itself that doesn’t bother to respect the rules we try to lay on it.

I’ve often said that if we are not stalked by failure we’re living a life of templates and formulas, and no one wins with them. Nehring puts the same idea beautifully, ‘Somewhere in our collective unconscious we know — even now — that to have failed is to have lived.’ This is important because the transforming power, the true power of Lovemarks is dramatically slowed when people try to turn it into a set process with rules for what works and what doesn’t. I’ve always believed that to deserve the name, a Lovemark is imaginative, intuitive and unpredictable as it finds fresh ways to respond to the lives of real people. This means that what may inspire Lovemark status in one place won’t necessarily have the same effect in another. Vive le difference! The foundation concepts of Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy are always at the core but this is a constantly changing landscape. What we are dealing with is emotion and emotion comes in many guises. For example, I am convinced that emotion is part of the success of Google. Just think about its ever-changing front page. Google carefully uses this amazingly valuable commercial property to respond to the stories and celebrations and personalities that are important to its users. The First Day of Spring. Happy St Patrick’s Day. Charles Darwin’s birthday. Etc etc. This is a great commercial decision to not be commercial.

What I like about A Vindication of Love is Nehring’s belief – one I share – that passion is the secret to love. That in our idea of Love we have become too pragmatic and pedestrian, too limited in our goals, too small in our expectations of each other. When Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands was first published, some of the reviewers couldn’t fathom how Love could play a part in business. I suggest they read Cristina Nehring’s book. Hers is a vindication of the wild side of Love indeed. No gain without pain? I’m with her on that too.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The gift of time

Over the past four weeks I’ve been touched by the efforts individuals are putting in to help causes and to make a difference. Six distinctively different friends of mine have all reached out to friends and colleagues who were asking for sponsorship/donations to charities. This in return for them putting their own bodies on the line and sacrificing their most precious commodity, time, for the cause. The efforts have involved running the Boston Marathon, running the London Marathon, long distance swimming, and walking across Morecambe Bay (with the tide out!). What’s heartwarming is that one shameful but understandable fallout from the current financial crisis is the reduced amount of funding being dedicated to charitable and philanthropic causes. Many people have had no choice but to focus on family and home and giving has declined sharply. It is really moving to see how ordinary people are coping with this; by sacrificing time in return for sponsorships, further proof that humanity will prevail.

In the same vein, in Rome last week I was inspired at a meeting at the P&G Alumni Group. Patti Rice Eggers was recognized and celebrated for her involvement in community service. Most notably she was the founder of Hands on Birmingham, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to engage people of diverse backgrounds in service to others throughout the community. Dian Aylan was also recognized as an individual who has made a significant contribution to the human condition through her efforts in founding the Give Light Foundation. This organization has as its mission building orphanages and helping orphans around the world. Dian lost over 40 relatives and friends in the December 2004 tsunami. She then founded Give Light which is a 100% volunteer organization with no people cost. That means 100% of funds raised goes to orphans and not the 70% more typical of more bloated organizations.

It was great to see fellow alumni putting their P&G skills to work for the good of less privileged others.

No matter how tough things get there is always time for us to sacrifice something for the good of other people.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Musical inspiration

A while back, I wrote about an academic who so hated the sameness of recorded music that he refused to listen to it. While I can’t help but respect his obstinacy, my iPod wins out when it comes to sheer pleasure, particularly on long flights and relaxed Sunday afternoons.

This human inclination toward the unique, creative, and individual was underlined by a recent study (Harvard and Arizona University) on musical inspiration. First, the members of a student orchestra were told to “Think about the finest performance of this piece that you can remember. Play it that way.” When they were about to play it a second time, the conductor’s direction was quite different. “Play this piece in the finest manner you can, offering subtle new nuances to your performance.” In other words, he opened the door to personal inspiration. When a musically sophisticated test audience listened to the performances, they could hear an immediate difference between the two. The study called the difference 'mindfulness', I call it 'flow'. The audience knew which one they liked most; of course, it was the one that drew on everything in these young musicians that was intense, personal, distinctive. The performance that demanded that they were most themselves and most in the moment. Best of all, the musicians themselves found the second performance more enjoyable, dynamic, and energetic.

While this work shows how to train musicians, it has important insights on how to unleash and inspire any team. Think about it. While an orchestra aspires to unity and co-ordination, the best results come when each musician feels focused, alert, and open to new discoveries. The moments when they make their own unique contributions. If I happened to be looking for a smart definition of how to do holistic marketing, it would be in those qualities.

It’s all wonderfully counter-intuitive. Don’t follow those who went before you – no matter how great they might be – but be the best you can be. This is exactly the kind of behavior I always look for in great creative teams. The people who study what has worked before and then do a great version of it, produce predictable, competent ideas. These ideas do not cut through with clients, colleagues, or consumers and cannot create the foundation for even better ideas to come. At the heart of every great team I have ever known is flow – personal focus, openness to the moment, inspiration.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Uncommon scents

Hearing of my newfound love for the Kindle, someone sent me (or should that be scent me?) to Smell of Books. The site purports to be a source for aerosol fragrances that you can scent your e-books with for that old book mustiness or new book tang. It’s not the best gag in the world, but it did make me smile and started me thinking.

I posted before about the amazing power of scent to make emotional connections and bring back deep memories. It can virtually transport us in an instant to other times and other places. Of course, retailers have been onto this for ever. Remember the 1990s when walking through a department store was like running the gauntlet of spritzers and scent-sodden paper testers? Thankfully the use of fragrance has become more sophisticated as inventors struggle to respond to the idiosyncrasies and richly personal dimensions of the sense of smell.

Take a simple sensory idea like ‘clean’. What smells clean? Once you get past the functional attributes of ammonia and soap and want to flavor your cleaning products, the skies open. ‘Clean’ is a personal experience and fragrance is its key marker. It can take you anywhere from the simplicities of lemon and pine to the complexities of a Moroccan bazaar (and yes, Moroccan Bazaar is in fact the fragrance of a new Febreze air freshener. According to Mintel, more than 3,000 cleaning products were launched last year (more than twice as many as in 2004) and 93 percent of them were imbued with fragrance. All this is happening when apparently Americans are spending far less time cleaning. The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research reports 40 percent fewer cleaning hours in 2005 than in 1965.

As for Smell of Books' handy aerosol idea, that new car fragrance has been available for some time now. There is obviously room for car scents that reflect a renewed interest in the environment and reduced fuel emissions. A slight waft of nature combined with a new car might be in order. How about specific model scents to differentiate a brand’s different offerings from one another? Perhaps the idea of a book scent for e-books is an idea for the time. I’m sure if Smell of Books wanted to push their idea, the perfect partner would be the fragrance house Demeter. Demeter’s inspired range of scents includes such gems as vinyl, dirt, and funeral homes, so books would be a snap. As the Demeter people say, “Fragrance should make you smile every time you smell it”. So why not a small pad on every new generation Kindle for a dab of ‘new book’ as required? Want to find a good e-book to read? Just follow your nose.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Music to go

On the road, my iPod is my trusted companion. Making the miles slip away. Listening to great road music.

1. Veteran's Day: The Tom Russell Anthology – Gritty, rural, American border, working class stories ('Sky Above, The Mud Below') to contemporary social revolution ('Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall?')

2. The Felice Brothers have just released their third (I think) album. Yonder is the Clock.

3. Alejandro Escovedo eats the miles away on his live album, More Miles Than Money (welcome to my life), and his latest, Real Animal, rocks. Bruce had Alejandro on stage with him recently in concert and the Boss can’t be wrong.

4. For something completely different, try El Guincho’s Alegranza. Tropical upbeat craziness.

5. I heard an album in an independent record store in Ambleside by a band called Twisted Wheel. It was their first album. I bought it. It’s great.

6. Thanks to all the recommendations I’ve received over the years, my iPod library is full of surprises with new songs and artists. I’ve just downloaded Boxer by a band called The National on my iPod library in New York. Can’t wait to hear it. This indie rock, Brooklyn-based band originated in Cincinnati 10 years ago and has gained tremendous recognition – all the way to the White House! ('Fake Empire' was one of the soundtracks at Obama election events). Besides Boxer, they have four other CDs. Thanks, Sparky! Keep ‘em coming!

7. Mellowing down in the evening/late night, I’m listening to :

  • The Acorn live at the Royal Albert Hall,
  • Dennis Wilson’s classic Pacific Ocean Blue
  • Cat Steven’s (aka Yusuf) latest, Roadsinger
  • Leonard Cohen's great Live in London concert from his comeback tour
  • Steve Earle’s homage to his mentor Townes Van Zandt
  • And for old times sake and a bit of fun, try the re-issued 1968 off Broadway release of Hair. 'Let the Sunshine In'!

Monday, June 22, 2009

A better mousetrap

The American philosopher Emerson once said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”. Rats. The man was clearly a philosopher, not an entrepreneur. My experience is that there are thousands of different mousetraps, some better than others, and no-one’s door is in danger of being beaten down. Let’s call it the Incrementalism Trap. Product changes tend to be minor, but instead of facing this truth and working with it, many companies use marketing to promote their products way beyond their contribution. A mousetrap that kills the mouse a nanosecond faster is heralded as ‘the humane trap’, the one that has an easy clean surface is sold as the ‘less-mess trap’, and so on. Consumers respond to the hype with a yawn and another product hits the fast track to commodity status. Some companies fall into the Incrementalism Trap again and again because they don’t understand their consumers and they certainly don’t value emotional connections with them.

Let’s take a counter-example. Our client Toyota has a great record on reducing emissions, but the car they know is making a real difference in the fight for sustainability is the Prius. This giant leap of the imagination is about more than a shift in fuel type and usage; it is a change in behavior. As soon as you sit in a Prius, you enter a world that cares about the future and this engagement is graphically underlined by the controls on the dash. You can see exactly when you are using the car at maximum efficiency and it’s this sort of engagement that shifts minds. And isn’t shifting minds the name of the game?

I’ve said before that it’s 'No Sustainability, No Lovemark', and I now feel that the tide is running with us. You can take your pick from the studies coming out every week about how consumers choose, but one from Hartman reported that around a third of consumers are now willing to pay a premium for sustainable goods. And that’s in a time of deep recession. People aren’t looking for better mousetraps, they’re wondering about why the mouse is in their kitchen in the first place. They are making big changes in their own behavior and are looking for companies that are doing the same. Not redesigning the pack, but redesigning from their need up. That’s why I give a cheer when I see supermarkets developing areas that reflect what they know their shoppers care about.

The baby aisle, where everything related to motherhood is gathered together has become an institution in every supermarket. I think it's fantastic to see this family fundamental joined by sections where all the sustainable products are gathered together. Not down the back with the hard-to-move loss leaders that lost, but proudly up front declaring the sustainability principles the store works on.

So far, we are at the very beginning of developing credible standards around what is and what is not sustainable, natural, organic, and all the rest, but we’re on our way. I was amazed to see Nielsen research claim that just under two-thirds of U.S. households read labels on food and beverage packages. That’s a lot of shoppers putting a lot of care and attention into their choices. As some brands get it right, the pressure will be on the rest to develop smart and compelling ways to connect their products with ideas that matter. Caring for our kids and families has always been central but it is now being joined by caring for our planet, our communities, our neighbors.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Brain power

I sometimes think that for a classic heart guy I am far too fascinated by the workings of the brain. But let’s face it, it’s the two working together that inspire great leaps of imagination. I feel, therefore I think. Today, neuroscientists are leading the charge to unravel our emotional lives via the electric impulses they can measure. What a perfect word ‘impulses’ is for the emotionally-led brain to be driven by.

Recently I was on a panel with Malcolm Gladwell, the high priest of unraveling the mysteries of science and a great storyteller. Now, thanks to a colleague Laurence Green, I’ve just come across a couple of books by a young (at 27, very young) scientist who might give Malcolm a run for his money, Jonah Lehrer.

Lehrer has been a regular writer for Wired for a while now and has also published in Malcolm’s bailiwick The New Yorker . His first book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, tracked how creative insight connects with scientific breakthrough. Think of the great French chef, Auguste Escoffier, who like the inimitable Ferran Adria today at El Bulli, used his profound knowledge of how flavors respond to one another to transform the complex chemistry of cooking. Or Marcel Proust, the French writer who helped define the way memory works through his monumental novel Remembrance of Things Past. Or Paul Cezanne recalibrating the way we see by playing around with the classic laws of perspective.

Now Lehrer has tackled another theme even closer to my heart in How We Decide. Here he explores how emotions play their part in creating and shaping the brain’s responses as we make our thousands of decisions every day. If you’ve read my book, Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands, you may have noticed the fingerprints of Antonio Damasio all over it, and this brilliant neuroscientist features high in Jonah Lehrer’s pantheon too.

Lehrer is a great storyteller with a great story to tell – the story of the emotional brain. The tale of a radar operator who took action when the blip on his screen looked like an aircraft but felt like a missile, or the pilot who landed a DC-10 without hydraulics and with instinct.

Lehrer concludes with a simple rule of thumb. We all know it and we all know we should follow it, but as we get more experienced and more educated it gets harder to do. If it doesn’t feel right, or it feels too good to be true, it probably is. Let’s make How We Decide compulsory reading for anyone who wants to work in a company that has had a public bailout. Test them on the book’s principles, insist they come up with real world examples from their personal experience, and maybe we’ll end up with a smarter bunch at the top than we currently have.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obsession & Perfection

Last night, 6:00pm, June 17, we got together to celebrate the launch of the finest sneaker ever created.

Wunderkammer is the first in the world to have this masterful piece of design in store, and will be stocking the sneakers in New Zealand at both its Ponsonby Road location and at ‘the showroom’ at 61 Randolph Street from this day forth. A world exclusive!!!

I’ve been privileged to have watched the Kiwi creator of these sneakers sweat out every last detail and set a new design bar for the category. I’ve also been amazed by his youth, resilience, and no compromise attitude. This is his design debut.

I could provide information about the creator and his meticulous approach to design and harp on about the obvious attention to detail – painstaking obsession with perfection. I could reveal influences, approaches, and careful administration over the four year project that has resulted in these marvelous pairs; or the quality, contrasts, and non-typical applications of the premium materials – but really (the fact of the matter is) the product speaks for itself.

So it’s here. There are only a few pairs and you need to check them out. Make sure you get to see the new pairs known simply as YOURS.

If you are in Auckland, get down to 61 Randolph Street, corner of Upper Queen Street, Newton, or visit Wunderkammer on Ponsonby Road. Just look for the ridiculously good-looking shoes.

Different strokes

I travel a lot and although air travel has its drawbacks, as you will know if you follow KRConnect, it has one great advantage – it's an amazing portal to new experiences. I always love those first moments when you arrive in a new place, that brief window where everything looks strange and different and more vivid than everyday reality. Ok, it soon normalizes, but the first time you lay eyes on Marrakech or walk through the glass canyons of downtown New York...unforgettable. In many ways, this flash of the new is something that people who live in countries other than their own get in small doses all the time. If you don’t share the same assumptions of culture and experience as most of the people you mix with, life can be that much more surprising and stimulating.

I’ve lived in a handful of countries in my life (U.K., France, U.S., Canada, Morocco, Switzerland, Cyprus, New Zealand, Australia) and each one has been invigorating and life-changing. I’m not saying that homebodies don’t have their own delights, but living in other people’s countries is something truly special.

There’s nothing better than reading heavy duty research confirming what you think. The Insead business school in Fontainebleau in France and the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago did the honors for me this time. Their study tested creativity in two groups of students in the United States: one of American-born students and the other of students who were visiting from elsewhere. The test they devised was kind of ingenious – you can try it for yourself.

First get a candle, six matches, and a box of drawing pins. The test is to attach the candle to a cardboard wall so that no wax drips on the floor when the candle is lit. Check out the solution at the end of this post.

The results were fascinating. For those of us tasked with finding the best creative talent in the world, a revelation. Only 42 percent of the students who had not lived abroad solved the problem. On the other hand, 60 percent of the foreign students got it sorted. There was also work done on creative negotiating skills, with similar results. Now you may be thinking that this is all very well but it probably only means that creative people are more likely to travel. Not so. It turns out that being in a different culture simply makes you more creative. We’re not talking a quick whip through in a tour bus here, but serious, long-term residency. So our efforts to encourage our people, particularly creatives, to work in agencies in different parts of the world are well directed. A classic reminder to think local and act global.

And the candle puzzle? Pin the box to the wall and use it as a candle holder to stop the wax dripping.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Kindle: a Progress Report

Well, I’m one month into Kindle fandom.

My biggest gripe is that it doesn’t work outside the U.S., and as that's where I spend 200 days a year, this is a limiting, irritating problem.

Having got that out of the way, I’m 30 days into my Kindle II. So far, I’m focused on its newspaper application. It’s a huge hit. I download The Times and The Independent every day and neither of these are easy to find in the United States. I think Jeff Bezos may have found and secured the future of newspapers. To paraphrase an ex-President, “it’s the news, not the paper, stupid”. Kindle delivers the news to me at 4:00am every day. It is easy to read, easy to absorb, zero hassle, and takes up no space. The latest Kindle DX is a large screen e-reader which is designed to optimize the presentation of newspapers. I might try it eventually but the portability of the Kindle II is of more use to me at the moment.

With the Kindle II is the ability to re-invent the newspaper business. For a start, it eliminates all the printing and distribution costs that are absolutely not fundamental to the consumer experience. The device itself needs work. It is crude and basic in its present form, and lacking a backlight and video, but it delivers.

The costs are reasonable and represents priceless value in terms of availability, ease of access, and reliability. It also explodes the myth of newspapers having to give away content free on the Web. People will pay.

I haven’t yet dipped my toes into the long form downloading of the 285,000 e-books available on Amazon.com. That's for next month.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Stella's world: one Stella at a time

Getting through the current catastrophe is top of mind. To come out the other end stronger than when you went in is the benchmark for all CEOs who intend to be winners in the next upswing. This time, as opposed to other recessions and even the great depression, a new imperative has been added to the mix. Not only do you need to lead your company through these tough times and have it stronger than before, it also needs to be sustainable. I believe that sustainability will decide who goes forward and who stays behind in the next part of this century.

As we all know, sustainability is more than clean water, more than keeping the books in the black, more than protecting and inspiring our cultures, and more than creating a joyful and secure social milieu. It is all of these together. That’s a big task.

In the past, I have suggested that the best way to cut through a big job like this is to take it one small piece at a time. I still believe this. A single person encourages his or her friends, who influence the village, who take it to the country, that sends it global. You know the story. But now I have another thought about how to get this virtuous cycle on track. When I think about a sustainable world, one face always comes to my mind: my granddaughter Stella. It is Stella who will live in the sustainable world we create, or attempt to live in the one that fails.

Sometimes our discussions about sustainability get very dry and rational. We may be talking about the future of the world but you’d never know it as you’re buried by metrics, tables, comparisons, and endless percentages. Where’s the urgency, the passion, the purpose? That’s what Stella, and the idea of Stella, gives me. And I like to have this reminder in a physical form that I can see and touch.

Like most proud grandparents, I have a photograph of Stella with me at all times. I have started to use her photo as a talisman in every decision I make. The question I ask myself is: “If we do this, will it help make Stella’s world a better, more joyful, happier place to live in?” Nothing concentrates the mind more powerfully than the future of someone you love. We all know how mothers fight for their children when danger is at hand. Well, danger is close, too close for comfort.

I believe that everyone of us who makes decisions (and that means all of us in ways big and small) that will have an effect on tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, or any of the days that follow that, should choose their own talisman: their own photograph of their own ‘Stella’. Your ‘Stella’ may be your kid brother, your daughter, a neighbor, or you may have the good fortune for your ‘Stella’ to be a grandchild. Try it. You don’t have to bring the photo out at a meeting but it can soon become second nature to have Stella help with your decisions.

Sometimes like all kids, she’ll be a distraction. Sometimes she’ll say just enough for you to do something. Sometimes she will help you break through to a fantastic revelation with sheer bloody brilliance. Making the world a better place for one person at a time. Now that’s what I call a Stella idea.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Flight 666

A post from guest blogger Rich Robinson.

This week I was lucky enough to get a chance to attend the U.K. premiere of the new Iron Maiden documentary, Flight 666. I’m kind of a fan already, so it was no surprise that I enjoyed it so much, but what did surprise me was the sort of a band they are. Simply put, I don’t think there are that many acts out there with this much integrity. I have to say I really was expecting some Spinal Tap preposterousness, maybe even 'hoping' it might have some Metallica-style prima donnas at each others throats, or at the very least some cocaine, booze, and groupie fueled madness. But surprisingly, it's none of those things at all. In fact, it's a portrait of a well balanced band who seem to genuinely like each other and genuinely love their fans. Sounds a bit boring when you put it like that, but that's the thing, with absolutely no artificial tension or tacked-on plot, it still manages to be both insightful and entertaining.

The movie follows the band on last year’s retrospective 'Somewhere Back in Time’ tour which amazingly covered 50,000 miles and 25 countries in just 45 days. Oh yeah, and it was all on their own plane piloted by singer Bruce Dickinson. You might not realize it, but Maiden are nothing short of a silent juggernaut of a band. They’ve also done it all with no airplay, no mainstream media support, and without ever compromising the sound or aesthetic of the band one little bit in the last 25 years. Yet they have still managed to sell 80 million albums, play some of the worlds biggest shows, and consistently remain one of the biggest bands in the world.

The story nicely champions the tricky logistics of moving a behemoth of a tour to places most bands fear to tread, and the problems that come up. Then, more importantly, are the likable characters it presents. You get the feeling they are really these nice, down to earth blokes who enjoy each others company. If that sounds dull in terms of the narrative, it's not. Their charisma, humor, and humility make all the members of the band engaging and entertaining to watch. There's no complaining, no rock star hissy fits, just guys having fun playing the music they love. In fact, I defy anyone to watch the movie and not come out thinking Niko McBrain is the nicest man in rock.

Of course, there are the songs too. Perfectly constructed for stadiums, encapsulating the tribal togetherness and fanatical involvement of the fans. You get the feeling this is where these songs naturally live, where they belong, and where they come to life. Hearing the crowd sing "Fear of the Dark" makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. But more, emotive still are the faces of the band as they hear the crowd singing back to them, it's the kind of connection that few other bands, if any, of that size seem to enjoy so sincerely.

There is also the amazing energy of Bruce Dickinson, which is simply astounding. If the leaping around on stage for two hours straight whilst bellowing high octane vocals (scream for me Costa Rica!) is not enough for you, how about getting up the next day to fly the sleeping band and crew to another country?

Most importantly at the center of it all are the fans. The hysteria at the hotel in Buenos Aires is something else, like Beatle-mania. There are people quitting their jobs in India to get to the show and people camping out in Costa Rica for 10 days just to get closer to the stage. I'm not sure who else could inspire that kind of loyalty and dedication these days.

But with all this worship and adoration, the band never once talk down to them, and you're left feeling genuinely like you were on the plane with them, part of the ride. Once again, Maiden takes their fans with them. It's impressive and inspiring, metal fan or not, Flight 666 might just deserve a couple of hours of your time. It's nice to know that nice guys finish first.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What's in a cloud?

Tracking connections can give us insight we never knew we had and the more connections you have to play with, the richer the insights you can make. As happens so often, the Internet has turned out to be a transforming connector and insight generator and one of its most intriguing forms has come in Word Clouds. You can see one on the right side of this blog. These clouds show the number of times a word is used on a site in a very simple way: the more times a word is used, the more prominently it is displayed in the cloud. You get a very cool visual picture of what the site really cares about. Take KRConnect as an example. As you might expect, the dominant words turn out to be my passions – Lovemarks, innovation, cool stuff, Attraction Economy, business, food and beverage, and storytelling. One way to track how your thinking evolves is to take snap shots of your Cloud and see how it changes over time. In my case, expect 'Winning Ugly' and 'focus' to get bigger.

What fascinates me about the potential of Word Clouds is not just what they show us, but what they show is missing. Take Recovery.gov created by the United States Government to support the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Its job is to explain what this unprecedented effort to jumpstart the economy is about and to show how all those billions are being spent. It’s not the most exciting place in the world to visit, but it’s clear, it’s direct, and it’s there. Now, the Sunlight Foundation is a group that works towards more transparency in Government and they recently published a Word Cloud they’d derived from scraping Recovery.gov. The result as you can see is a massive concentration on data and information. The words that jump out at me are data, information, transparency, and reporting. I understand that there is an urgent need for information and data to be out in the open, but this seems to be a textbook example of the limitations government agencies carry with them. Where are the people? Wait, I can see them buried there, right up in the top left of the cloud.

Any sustainable recovery will only be possible when people’s confidence returns and for that they need emotion, inspiration, purpose and, yes, dreams. The biggest word in Recovery.gov’s Cloud is 'data' and we know what the problem is with that: data just confuses most people and it certainly doesn’t inspire action. What they’re hanging out for are stories that give all this data some meaning in their lives. So let’s give a cheer for transparency in Government, but not mistake it for change or challenge, action, or success. It would be great if in six months Recovery.gov had built its factual foundations and could reveal a Cloud studded with optimism, innovation, and energy. Until words and ideas like that illuminate a silver lining, this cloud will stay gray.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Berbatov and the Bulgarians

Dimitar Berbatov is the Bulgarian forward who plays for Manchester United. He’s a handsome, brooding £30.75m striker who is fond of a quick cigarette, not necessarily standard training procedure these days. He’s also something of an enigma to the fans of United due to his playing style, which has seen him described as walking a “fine line between languid genius and a louche waste of space” (The Guardian). He’s infuriatingly casual, seemingly lazy, yet stylish, clever, and very cool. Why would such a player, handed such a great career opportunity, not make more of his ability and good fortune?

After my visit last week to Sofia, Bulgaria, to speak at the Marketing and Innovation Forum, all is now explained. Berbatov is a Bulgarian par excellence! Having not been to Bulgaria before I was quickly indoctrinated in the ways of this beautiful and quirky country and its friendly and ultra-laid back people. Mystery, Sensuality, and Intimacy are big players in Bulgaria – especially the Mystery.

Being at a historical crossroads, and a former member of the Eastern Bloc, Sofia is a city at the base of Vitosha Mountain, a backdrop that gives way first to industrial zones, then dated communist apartment blocks, before finally revealing an attractive restored center. Throughout the city there are hints of modernity. Bulgaria is a nation in transition, and its marketing and advertising reflect that. Like many of the supposed later-developing nations, the great avenue of innovation lies in leapfrogging years of slow evolution and going digital. Our local agency understand that.

The Bulgarian government probably don’t get that. At an interview with Bulgarian Public Television, I was instructed not to mention any brands on air, and they couldn’t say what company I was from! Tough, but I love a challenge. What’s strange is that this rule does not hold for press or online. Apparently it also doesn’t hold if your company has done something wrong.

The main event was at the National Opera and was full of 400 young and not so young marketing and advertising professionals. They were engaged, passionate, restless people, asking tough questions, laughing whole-heartedly, and focused on the future.

Coincidentally, I also watched the UEFA Champions League final in Sofia, where after 63 minutes, Dimitar Berbatov trotted on to try and pull back Manchester United from the brink of defeat against Barcelona. He didn’t score, was rarely seen, and seemed a little nonplussed by the game, although he must have been as motivated as any other player on the field. In Bulgaria, it’s what you don’t see that matters. Lots of Mystery.

Monday, June 8, 2009

New words for a new world

Revolution starts with language. Once we get through this credit crisis, the revolution we will be facing is a revolution of confidence. As head counts are cut, jobs eliminated, and offices closed, we will still be faced with running the business and winning. To do this, it will be vital to recruit and inspire talent in new ways. The days of fat and surplus will disappear. Entitlement will disappear. We will move into an age of performance with inspiration, where working together will be what makes the difference, not personal gain. In this environment we must think about re-inventing. Human resource departments around the world will have to reconfigure, regroup, and rethink. I have always hated the name 'Human Resources'. I don’t view people as a resource, I view them as the very essence of progress.

My oldest son Ben is the Talent Director for Saatchi & Saatchi Europe and the Middle East. My sister is the General Manager Human Resources at Orica in Melbourne, Australia, one of my best friends, Joe McCollum, is the Group HR Director at the Daily Mail. In New York, Milano Reyna, one of my most trusted partners, is the Worldwide Human Interests Director at Saatchi & Saatchi.

I’m attracted to HR people because of their twin drivers of unleashing potential and nourishing personalities. I wish though we could find a better name for the human resource department. At Saatchi & Saatchi, Milano calls his group 'Human Interests'. The Bank of New Zealand have called their group 'People and Culture' (a good start but it sounds too much like the Sunday Times supplement).

Maybe the simplest solution of all is to call HR 'The People Group'? Or maybe 'Talent' is the key word.

If anyone out there has got a good idea, I’d love to hear it.

Once the language changes, then outlook, behaviors, priorities will follow. We’re moving into an age where inspiring talent to deliver great results and operate at peak every day is the name of the game.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Taking food to the edge

Put two words together and you’ve grabbed my attention instantly: emotion and food. Followers of KRConnect will know that I am a passionate collector of great dining experiences. Over the years some of these have taken place in acclaimed restaurants, many in the homes of friends, and a fair few in simple eateries that I have chanced upon in my travels. Such diversity is fantastic because the top-end trendsetters often go on to influence and shape the food experiences and tastes of generations.

Now Washington might not leap out as a seedbed of innovative cuisine, but The Hartman Group is based there and they have recently published a trend study that makes fascinating connections between some of the most innovative cuisine of the past decade and the experiences they inspire. Hartman use the term "technoemotional" instead of the more common “molecular gastronomy” (one of the worst descriptors ever devised). Whatever you call it, we’re talking cuisine that uses sophisticated science to push the boundaries of what you can do with food.

The start point is obvious. One of the great changes in human history occurred over the past century or so when many technologies where invented to make food more palatable, consistent, easily distributed, and easier to prepare. Every food company had an army of food technologists inventing extraordinary products to attract consumers. In all this ferment, much of the restaurant industry stuck with traditional standards and techniques – there was certainly creativity but there was not a lot of innovation. Why weren’t these amazing technologies ever used by chefs to make their food more exciting? Why did food science always have to be in service of food simplicity? What superb combinations and effects lay untapped in the kitchen? Who were the chefs who would be confident enough to let science in the door of their kitchens and unleash new emotion?

Well, you’ll have already met some of them on television, in magazines and bookstores, and on this blog. When I posted my top restaurant reviews, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck was at the top of the list. Often jokingly called Professor Blumenthal, he has always understood that science and emotion are perfect partners in the kitchen. I have had meals at the Fat Duck that have stood my taste buds on end. Take last week for instance, where a 'Sounds of the Sea' theme brought together iPods, sand, sea birds (their calls, not their taste!), and fresh seafood. This was followed by the mystery of the forest involving a Lord Of The Rings-like sensory experience that engaged all five senses. Blumenthal's cookbook, which one could says is more suited to a laboratory than a kitchen, carries a steep price-tag. But if you want to go to the edge and beyond with your cooking, or simply your appreciation of cooking, it is a fantastic inspiration.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Falls the Shadow

In our crisis plagued world there has never been a better time to look to the past and learn what’s truly important. Recently I saw a work of art that did exactly that. At the time it was installed in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, but it is now on display at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele in Belgium. The title of this powerful installation is "Falls the Shadow" and its creator is New Zealander Helen Pollock.

To understand the power of Helen’s work, you first need to comprehend the emotional intensity of the word “Passchendaele” that still resonates in New Zealand, the country I call home. We’re talking about a farming district in Belgium that is not too far from being exactly on the other side of the world from New Zealand. During World War I, Passchendaele was the scene of a terrible slaughter. Seventeen thousand New Zealanders died alongside their British, Canadian, and Australian compatriots and 41,000 returned home wounded. In a country the size of New Zealand, this was a huge trauma on such a scale that the nation has struggled to deal with it ever since. The obvious question to begin with is to ask why New Zealanders were even there, and the answer is both complex and simple. They were there because they were soldiers. They were there in service of their country. They were there to defend what they still called the Mother Country. The United Kingdom. Since the 1960s, these ties of heritage, commitment, and blood have been relentlessly – and in my opinion, inexcusably – gnawed at by the British in their desire to join economically with Europe. However, the historical reality remains on mainland Europe.

Helen Pollock’s father was one of the soldiers on the muddy fields of Belgium. He was a boy who came through the war, and like so many others, put his memories in a bottom drawer, never speaking of his profound experiences. The horror of friends dying so far from home, the loneliness, deprivation, and awkwardness that greeted their return to New Zealand after the fighting was done. Historian Ray Grover explains in March to the Sound of the Guns how returned soldiers learnt fast that people didn’t want to know of their experiences. “We know it was nasty but your mother gets upset when you tell her things like that.”

Opening the drawer with her father’s memories was a revelation to Helen. Out of it the past poured into her imagination and helped shape a series of compelling sculptures that literally connect physical realities. Helen arranged for clay to be scraped from the fields of Passchendaele and combined it with clay from New Zealand’s Coromandel region in her Auckland studio to make her work. Long russet-colored arms reaching up from the past echo the blasted trees of this devastated place as well as signal the indestructibility of the human spirit. It is a sculpture that calls out the futility of war as well as celebrates the courage, humility, and emotional resonance that is its legacy. It strikes me that these three ideas alone are solid foundations for dealing with our own current crisis. Courage, humility, and emotional resonance. From the past to the present and pointing the way forward.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

PAPER: Rebranding America

I’m a huge design fan, so when Kim Hastreiter of PAPER magazine asked me to contribute to their annual design issue – I was there. PAPER is a very cool and focused magazine that’s been in my Top Ten for ever, but Kim’s idea for 2009 was irresistible: How would you rebrand America? The creative company was stellar and Kim was direct as always:

“As the times we are living in are so radical, I think radical ideas are needed to help save our proverbial asses and to create a new path forward into what I like to call the "new normal". The best part of being in deep shit is that with it comes a unique opportunity for progressive thinking because the status quo is desperate.”

In April I posted some thoughts on Backing Brand America, but working with great Saatchi & Saatchi creatives around the globe to come up with visual ideas to change hearts and minds – well, that was something else.

The ideas published in the magazine and online are brave, clear-eyed, and (best of all) hopeful. The election of a new President is an unprecedented opportunity to look at America afresh and that’s the brief I gave Saatchi & Saatchi people for Brand America. I told them that my dream is for all Americans to reach out to the world and inspire everyone they touch to come together and rebuild a new world of optimism, joy, and shared responsibility. Remember, I told them, Kim is looking for a creative call to action. This is not more analysis and rationalization. In the end, actions will speak louder than ads and the stimulus to action is always emotion. The results were stunning and stimulated a heap of debate on the Web. Kim had invited mavericks to participate so everyone was excited to see their ideas responded to with such intensity.

My personal vision for the rebranding was perfectly captured by "No More Us and Them”. We are on this planet together and together we have to help make the world a better place for everyone. No More Us and Them. Perfect. I also loved the image of three colored blobs of Play-Doh ready to be molded into a dream. The Red, White, and Blue. It really is in your hands. It is.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Inspirational Greece

The reason I found myself in Greece the other week was to give a presentation to the Greek Association of CEOs on "Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions". Of course everyone makes what they think are good decisions at the time, some of which turn out to be bad! Things change, and sometimes what was right on Monday is wrong by Thursday afternoon. Nobody said it was going to be easy!

We all make mistakes. I have always told the people I work with to pursue failure. Not to make mistakes on purpose, but when they do make them, to use it as a piece of extreme learning. There is no better way to judge a company than by its ability to fail fast, learn fast, fix fast. John Chambers over at Cisco has said "without exception, all my biggest mistakes occurred because I moved too slowly".

In some cultures and environments (possibly every government department on earth) this can be hard to apply, but I can tell you that fail, learn, fix is one of the great liberators of innovation. I come from a young country that is not overwhelmed by its history like Greece and changing on a dime is part of the business culture.

But times are tough, even in countries where there is a natural inclination to look at the world as it used to be. It is vital that business practice doesn’t sit in the past. This is not to decry history. I am a strong believer in the past informing the present to shape the future, but we live and work in the here and now.

I told the Greek CEOs that the big idea they needed to take from their history is the inspirational spirit that made Greece the center of the world and makes them a Lovemark. The Greeks who achieved that goal all those centuries ago did it the same way Greek people can change their world today. Fail fast, learn fast, fix fast.