Thursday, July 30, 2009

Traits of a Leader

There’s an awful lot of theory written about leadership nowadays. For the past decade, along with Mike Pratt, Clive Gilson, and Joe McCollum, we’ve been working with major companies on our view of what constitutes inspirational leadership and peak performance. It started by learning what we could from great sporting organizations such as the All Blacks – whose inspirational dream is to “maintain rugby’s position at the heart of the nation” (Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Top Sports Organizations, p.273) – and have since refined our thinking having worked with Saatchi & Saatchi, Publicis Groupe, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Visa, and Novartis. I’ve been a big believer that the key to successful leadership is sharing your dream with your people, inspiring them to be the best they can be in pursuit of that dream, and emotionally connecting with them on an individual basis so that they can be the best they can be.

I was intrigued to read an article in the Harvard Business Review by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones entitled “Why Should Anyone be Led by You?” They believe that the key differentiators in today’s world for successful leaders are:

  1. Show you’re human, selectively revealing weaknesses.
  2. Be a ‘sensor’ collecting soft people data that lets you rely on intuition.
  3. Manage employees with ‘tough empathy’. Care passionately about them and their work, while giving them only what they need to achieve their best.
  4. Dare to be different. Capitalizing on your uniqueness.
I believe in all four of these beliefs and recommend you read their article.

It’s not all harmony and agreement as I do differ in one or two spots. For example, on the first idea of showing your weaknesses, the two authors recommend you pick a flaw that others consider a strength, e.g. workaholism. This to me is manipulation and should be avoided. We all have plenty of real weaknesses to choose from. Let the real you show, be open and transparent, believe in man’s humanity to man, and other people will cover for you and compensate for your weaknesses.

The authors still view leaders as having to have followers. I think it’s more about inspirational players who feel like a family and perform like a team.

Two minor nits in what is really a fresh look at the realities of inspirational leadership in today’s world.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NZ Strong Wool Gets Stronger

One of the unwritten rules of Lovemarks is don’t get stuck in the commodity quadrant, the realm of raw products and raw actions. For service industries like travel, this is unforgivable, which is why I will only fly on an American airline out of desperation or duress.

For land based industries which originate in the commodity zone, global integration has laid down hotly contested conditions that demand re-positioning. How to climb the value chain onto a premium rung as value gets redefined around rising standards of quality and sustainability? The answer lies in an end-to-end story of value that turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Being from New Zealand, where the sheep outnumber the people (see the comedy horror movie Black Sheep for the dark and ridiculous side of this), I’m excited to see the unveiling of Laneve, a new wool brand from Wool Partners International, a joint venture headed by top business leader, Theresa Gattung, and an old mate of mine, Iain Abercrombie. This luxe evolution of the Wools of New Zealand brands brings the attributes of the wool itself right to the fore.

Here’s how the story stacks up. New Zealand produces 30% of the world’s strong wool (used mainly for carpets), it’s the highest quality but we’re not leveraging this scale and quality advantage. Prices paid to farmers for wool have steadily fallen for two decades and incredibly are now well less than half what they were 20 years ago. This has led to New Zealand sheep numbers halving over that period (from 60 million to 30 million). New Zealand needs agricultural diversity – and sheep are low impact on the environment. In the US only 3% of carpets sold are wool, the rest synthetic ie made from petroleum based products. The synthetics guys have comprehensively outmarketed wool, which used to be the dominant fibre for flooring. Wool ought to be a marketers dream – it’s a sustainable raw product which makes beautiful end products, in a world crying out for authenticity. Bringing that story to the fore and directly connecting producers and consumers is what Laneve (from Laneus, which is Latin for wool and weave) is about.

Laneve’s fibre integrity is woven in its farming practices, animal welfare, sustainability, traceability, and environmental standards; issues that are right up the brand street of high-end American consumers. By setting a critical supply standard and tracking the wool only from accredited growers through scouring and spinning right to the finished product at point of sale, the commodity trap gets sprung.

Wool Partners already has direct deals with U.S. carpet makers for launch at trade fairs in the northern winter, and there’s more in the works. It’s a sustainable story you can follow that delivers through the line. Laneve is pumping in the premium, and that’s the new game that really matters to New Zealand.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Federer Winning Ugly

I was enthralled by the Wimbledon men’s singles final between Federer and Roddick. Andy Roddick played the best tennis of his life and epitomized many facets of the classic Winning Ugly attitude. He stood his ground, fought for every point, never gave up, changed his game to absorb the better player’s game, and took his chances when they occurred. His greatest strengths were his endurance, preparation, and determination.

What to me really made an impact was a beautiful player, Roger Federer, Winning Ugly. This is the story of 2009. This is what we are trying to do at Saatchi & Saatchi, which for many years has been a beautiful, creative, award-winning, Nothing is Impossible company. Whilst keeping these characteristics, I’ve tried to encourage all our folks that we need to add Winning Ugly characteristics to our makeup for these tough times. If we are successful, then the new Saatchi & Saatchi will be even stronger than its creative predecessor.

Roger Federer didn’t really Win Ugly. What he did was refuse to lose. He didn’t fold, didn’t give in, and didn’t back down. He only broke Roddick in the very final game of the final set. Roddick played liked a champion but Federer never gave up believing. As Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is a habit”, and that’s what got Federer through. He simply wasn’t prepared to lose. He reached into his memory bank and remembered that he had won 14 Grand Slam tournaments. Roddick didn’t have this to fall back on. Federer's strategy was Winning Ugly personified. In real terms, it was “not losing”. Even though Federer was mostly outplayed during the game, he just would not admit defeat. He didn’t beat Roddick, he just refused to lose.

When these tough times end, those people that have adopted this approach will come out even stronger than before.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Family, friends, food & festivities





Top Picture: Chris Bonington and Kevin; above (Left to Right), Roy and Enyd Hales, Frank and Nicola, Chris Bonington, Kevin, Ro, Bex, Rita, Danis and Jenny Parker. Photographer: Keith Taylor.

Last week was a tremendous thrill for me. I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Laws by Lancaster University. This was a particular thrill for me since I’m Lancaster born and bred, and the Vice Chancellor Paul Wellings is an old boy of Lancaster Royal Grammar School as am I. To be honored by my local Uni in front of friends and family was very special. Two of my favorite inspirational teachers (Peter Sampson and Doug Cameron, both in splendid form at 71 and 80 respectively) joined us for the celebration. And the icing on the cake? The Chancellor awarding the Doctorate is a hero of mine. Chris Bonington. An icon in the Lakes and the UK as a climber, explorer, mountaineer, writer and lecturer and a wonderful man. To look at him you would think he came from Hollywood central casting for the role of Chancellor. 75 years old, fit, healthy, a natural storyteller, a born leader and a perpetual grandfatherly smile on his face.

I was awarded the honor following the graduation ceremony of students from County College and Pendel College and it was great to see these fresh young, enthusiastic leaders about to go out and take on the world. I urged them to be optimistic, joyful and to look for jobs that offer responsibility, recognition, learning and joy and also encouraged them to follow their hearts, strive to be the best they can be and commit to make a difference. I got out just ahead of the stampede to the pub!

We celebrated that night in The Highwayman which is a great gastro pub in Burrow, near Kirby Londsdale. It’s part of a 6 unit operation run by Michelin star chef Nigel Haworth. Terrific fresh food, all from local sources served by talented young chefs. If you get the chance and you’re in the area, check out the Northcote in Blackburn, the Three Fishes near Whalley, The Bull at Broughton near Skipton, the The Clog and Billycock in Pleasington, as well as The Highwayman. They are all chock-a-block with authentic Northern recipes including the authentic Lancashire Hot Pot that Nigel created which just won a place on the great British menu celebration.

Nigel works closely with regional suppliers and credits all of them in his restaurants showing where they are located, what products they produce and giving them weeks for promotion. We went there during Cauliflower Week!

Nigel Haworth and his team are in the same place as Alice Bloomfield from The Spotted Pig in NY. Good value, well priced, high quality, local cooking at its best.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Parisian Bread, Sustainability, & Enoughism



It is staggering to run the numbers on our recent past. In America, total consumer debt has reached $13.8 trillion and individual debt per household tipped over 130% of disposable income. Family income dropped, but the cost of healthcare and higher education skyrocketed.

What is beneficial about all this is self-reflection. Big questions like, "What are our values and goals? What changes do we make as businesses and consumers?"

Consumers have recalibrated and are starting to consume less. Buying and using less, however, is easier in theory than practice. It helps to have a framework to guide you. Faithful anti-consumerism isn’t a realistic or sustainable solution for all of us. Instead of extremes, we need balance.

I see that balance in the concept of Enoughism from British journalist John Naish’s book Enough: Breaking Free from the World of More. This is fueled by concern for where consumer society has taken us and offers action that is both realistic and sustainable – cut back, use less, focus on quality, seek out environmentally aware companies, and where possible, buy local products. How much is enough? It’s a personal answer, and the power of change is always personal. I see Enoughism as basic business principles: operate within your means, be responsible to your community, and focus on the health of your company and the happiness of your employees.

The popular phrase “Less is More” has a ring to it, but Milton Glaser, the celebrated designer, says it makes no sense at all. With a Persian rug, for example, “every part of that rug, every change of color, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success”. Less art in society is not more. His alternative has relevance far beyond design: “Just enough is more.”

For consumers how much is enough? Reducing our footprint should not also dilute the value of a product, nor should it limit your own ambition.

Think Warren Buffett. While among the richest men in the world, he lives in the same house he bought for $31,500 in 1957. He makes investments that deliver value and doesn’t invest in companies he doesn’t understand. Buffett has a common sense approach that keeps him grounded and in touch with the world. Know yourself, your core value, find balance over the long-term, and you can change the world.

Think Lionel Poilâne. If you’ve been to Paris, you’ve likely eaten his bread. He was criticized for not baking baguettes, but his loaf of sourdough baked in a woodfire oven one at a time won over critics. Poilâne’s relentless focus on quality, locally sourced, made pain Poilâne the staple of Paris with some 15,000 loaves delivered a day. His bread is a lesson about basic business creating sustainable value.

We know we’ve got ahead of ourselves and we’re cutting back. How we do that over time is fundamentally about balance. Enoughism frames your choices and translates concern for the planet into action. Always aim high, but reconsider what is enough. Adopt Buffett’s relentless focus on value and Poilâne’s relentless focus on quality. Simply asking “how much is enough” may yield extraordinary results.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

YMCA – Raise Up and Represent

When you look back on your time as a teen, you realize some people made all the difference. Most kids and their parents do it tough on some level, and without self-esteem and inspiration it’s too easy for young people to head down a dangerous path. We need someone, anyone, to believe in us. This is one reason why I provide support to programs for at-risk youth. Adolescent funding and mentorship never mattered more. TYLA – the Turn Yourself Around Trust – which originated in West Auckland, New Zealand, is the focus of my support.

Another community organization putting a wave under youth in New Zealand is the YMCA. It’s been a vigorous presence since 1855, building mind, body and spirit in young people through physical and outdoor education, personal safety programs, and community work. In Auckland the YMCA youth development program called Raise Up and Represent has been lighting a fire. The project aims to give a safe and healthy environment for kids to relax, socialize and foster a sense of pride and respect for themselves, and the communities in which they live.

An upcoming Raise Up Auckland event is their inaugural CBD-Connect performance to the public as part of a fundraiser on Friday 21 August at the Rendezvous Hotel starting 7pm. This is a signature example of young lives on the rise. Youth organize, market, run and perform their own entertaining event, and ask companies to back them by buying tickets. The reciprocation fits well with the role of business – to make the world a better place for everyone. I’m honored to be a guest speaker and will be talking about seizing opportunities in a tough financial climate.

The kids, in the 15-year age range, are unbelievable performers. Deane Siakimotu will emcee the evening and choreographer Ashleigh MacKinven (17) has created two special dances with the group Sample. There will be music performances by Sam Hollingum and Grace, and a poetry recital by Courtney Meredith, a Montana Award winning ‘slam poet’. To cap off the evening, there will be a performance by multi-talented soul singer and jazz musician Tama Waipara. If you’re in the zone for this, make sure to show your support and book in a table. Inspiration-out has a direct relationship for inspiration-in.

For more info and reservations contact Michelle Delahunty at the YMCA, email michelle.delahunty@nzymca.com or phone 09 306 3750. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More on FREE

FREE is an idea I’ve played with before. Now Chris Anderson, the brilliant editor of Wired and Long Tail advocate, has turned his attention to the four letter word that is shocking business people everywhere. I remember back in the day when sixties radical Abbie Hoffman titled his most famous publication Steal This Book. What a title! It was a book about free – what was free and how to get it. What Hoffman considered worth getting for free says a lot about the times. We’re talking free sandals, free communes, free smoke bombs, and gardening for free ‘herb’. Hoffman’s book even came with its own stolen Library of Congress catalog number! But while the idea of free is old, what is new is the way the digital world has made free a global phenomenon.

Chris Anderson’s book Free: the Future of a Radical Price is less ambitious than The Long Tail. It’s more a journey through the digital world of FREE than an attempt to discover what it means or how it will change anything. As the recent demonstrations in Iran have shown, texting, tweeting, and ‘free’ journalism outdid the newspapers in terms of instant access to what was going on. This free media doesn’t mean that newspapers have to pack up their tents, but it does mean they have to evolve.

My bet is that FREE will turn out to be like many other revolutionary phenomena and it will live in an And/And relationship with other technologies. The music industry is turning itself inside-out to cope with the free downloaders by getting faster, more flexible, and more responsive. Music is a tough, competitive business. Talent sparks everywhere, the barriers to entry are low, and choice is, for all practical purposes, limitless. No wonder FREE rocked here first and only now has newspapers, magazines, and books, in its sight.

Of course, FREE is a big part of human nature. Ask mothers who bring up children. Ask the millions of people who help out those who are less well-off. We live in a capitalist age but we need it to be the Capitalism of Inclusion. A world where people look after those who are close to them and watch out for those who fall along the wayside. With FREE opening up communications and creativity, sharing, and social networks, I believe it is helping to make the world a better place. The debate around FREE uncovers its potential to bring out the best in people. I believe we are already seeing this online and offline. FREE to a good home? Sounds perfect to me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nature’s 10 Simple Rules: Part 2

Here’s the second half of my thoughts on Nature’s 10 Simple Rules for Business Survival (read Part 1 here). Send me your views on this list. Also, make sure you pin it up on your wall, your company’s survival may depend on it.

Nature’s # 6. Integrate metrics. Nature brings the right information to the right place at the right time. When a tree needs water, the leaves curl; when there is rain, the curled leaves move more water to the root system. OK, I’m not a big metrics guy. Experience has shown me that a quick decision grounded in intuition often beats the 100 page report and meeting from hell. But I also find inspiration in understanding how the world works, and for that big picture we need numbers – just numbers from a lot of different sources. Smart, revealing, insightful numbers. For example, James Dyson worked through around 5,000 prototypes before coming up with the wildly successful Dyson vacuum cleaner. Let the truth of that number hit you around the head. When did any of us make 5,000 attempts at anything? If all you read are balance sheets, that’s how you’ll see the world and you will fail. Too many factors impact on us for any one perspective to show the way forward. If you think otherwise, ask a banker about subprime.

Nature’s # 7. Improve with each cycle. Evolution is a strategy for long-term survival. The long-term is the only term if you want to survive. Short-term thinking – like the ridiculous obsession with quarterly earnings – has taken more eyes off the ball than a couple of streakers at a football match. The magic mix? Big, long-term ideas combined with the spirit of "Fail fast, learn fast, fix fast". We can all learn from the frenzied world of fashion. In my first job at Mary Quant, we had nine months to conceive, produce, launch, sell, and then discontinue, a complete line. We got better at it – I promise you.

Nature’s # 8. Right size regularly, rather than downsize occasionally. If an organism grows too big to support itself, it collapses. If it withers, it is eaten. When businesses start there are usually just a few people doing everything. Then there comes a time when more people are on the job than can comfortably fit around the lunch table. Thus middle management kicks in and, as Kurt Vonnegut put it in Slaughterhouse-Five, "So it goes". Right size is such a great term. The right size of a business depends on the business. This is where business gets specific and where clarity counts. If you want to manufacture cars for the world to drive, your right size is nothing like that of a boutique fragrance. The key though is to know what’s right – right size, right people, right choices – and to take action.

Nature’s # 9. Foster longevity, not immediate gratification. Nature does not buy on credit and uses resources only to the level that they can be renewed. Since joining Saatchi & Saatchi, one of my great pleasures has been the opportunity to speak to the P&G Alumni. These are people who have worked for P&G and believe in P&G principles. Best of all, they keep the P&G flag flying long after they have left the company. They are in it for the long-term and the long-term extends beyond a job at P&G and even their working life. They are an amazing renewable source for P&G that promotes the company, attracts more great people to work there, and connects P&G in rich and complex ways to the communities and countries it works in. Longevity is about making a worthwhile contribution. Gratification is about an immediate sensation.

Nature’s # 10. Waste nothing, recycle everything. Some of the greatest opportunities in the 21st century will be turning waste — including inefficiency and underutilization — into profit. This rule can transform businesses, regions, nations, and people. One area of waste that I take very personally is the waste of human potential. That’s why TYLA – Turn Your Life Around – is very close to my heart. This remarkable program based in New Zealand helps kids at risk start to make positive choices about their lives. We use mentors, fresh opportunities, experiences, support – whatever it takes to transform these young people into hard-working, energetic and joyful citizens. In today’s tough climate, we want every hand to the pump. Waste not, want not.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sustainable calculations

Last week saw not only the launch of Adam Werbach’s new book Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto, but also the launch of the Happy Planet Index 2.0. This report, from the London-based New Economics Foundation (NEF), commenced in 2006 with the goal of showing that “good lives don’t have to cost the Earth”. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) measures two sets of data: the well-being of our lives and our rate of resource consumption. In other words, this dovetails with the inspirational dream of Saatchi & Saatchi S: “To build a global movement of happy people living on a healthy planet”.

The index is not a ranking of the happiest countries in the world. It crunches known data on life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth, and ecological footprint per capita. NEF’s goal in doing so is to challenge the usual metrics of development, such as GDP and the Human Development Index. And they surely succeed on that front – no first world country is in the top ten ranked countries. Instead, the top three are from Central America/Caribbean: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. Some of these rankings will surprise you because countries with mediocre well-being but very low environmental impact, like Vietnam, place ahead of those with higher environmental impact. New Zealand came in at 103rd just ahead of Belarus. The United States ranked 114th out of 143, below the Congo, while Tanzania, Botswana, and Zimbabwe ranked at the very bottom.

We could argue endlessly over the leaderboard, but what’s useful is rethinking what constitutes a happy and healthy society. Contrast this index with the one recently put out by Monocle magazine on the top 25 most livable cities. The top three spots were won by cities you might expect: Zurich, Copenhagen, and Tokyo. None of these cities are in countries within the top 50 of the Happy Planet Index.

The Happy Planet Index is more than just an exercise in research. Their website lays out a manifesto for a happier planet with these recommendations:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Improve healthcare
  3. Relieve debt
  4. Shift values (to promote social interaction and a sense of relatedness)
  5. Support meaningful lives
  6. Empower people and promote good governance
  7. Identify environmental limits and design economic policy to work within them
  8. Design systems for sustainable consumption and production.
  9. Work to tackle climate change
  10. Measure what matters
Good food for thought. All of us will have different ideas on how to get there, but we can all agree that our goal is “happy people living in a healthy planet”.

Read the full report, add your ideas, sign the Happy Planet Charter, or calculate your own HPI at www.happyplanetindex.org.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Opportunity knocks

No one in their right mind would suggest that an economic collapse was just what we needed, but sometimes, tough times do throw up opportunities we don’t hear when the bulls are roaring. I remember back in the 1970s, New York was a very different city to the one we know now. It had a gritty edge and the sense that anything could happen if you stepped beyond the lights. As the economy of the city collapsed and bankruptcy loomed, businesses folded or moved on to more congenial locations, leaving behind vast tracts of abandoned buildings and empty store fronts. One by one they were reoccupied, and very often by artists.

Downtown, the Bowery and SoHo exploded in a buzz of creativity. The subway, if you had the nerve to go down there, was a living gallery of graffiti art featuring the poignantly funny chalk drawings of Keith Haring on blacked out notice boards. As each train roared into the station, it was like watching a rainbow rocket past. Above ground, artists like Haring took advantage of empty stores and cheap rents to start their own enterprises. Haring called his the Pop Shop and it gave me the same charge of energy and enthusiasm I had seen and lived with in 1960s London.

I am certain we will see this same spirit blossom in the present crisis. One person’s empty space is someone else’s chance of a lifetime. This is certainly happening in London, a city that has been savagely hit by the current downturn. A number of artists have grabbed at empty shop fronts to create temporary exhibitions. It’s the pop-up store concept in a different guise – opinionated, focused, passionate, committed. It’s also an opportunity for local Councils to return some space to creative people to use as studios, sound recording suites, and practice rooms. Good times have the unfortunate effect of squeezing these essential creative resources out of the centre of cities. Let’s welcome them back. Our ability to see opportunity rather than threat, and work to our strengths rather than succumb to our weaknesses is the way to get through these tough times. Best of all, it will inspire into the optimism we need to sustain us on the other side that we call the future.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Listen up

When we were creating the Lovemarks and sisomo books, we were determined to have arresting images that would give browsers, as well as readers, that Aha! moment. I had a great time reviewing and selecting some ideas, and requesting new versions of others. This was all possible thanks to the access the Internet gave us to the many picture libraries that are available. We searched through Getty Images and Corbis and discovered everything from desert nomads loading a prized television set onto a camel, to an historical photograph of a corner store in London. If we were making those books now we’d be all over Flickr, of course. Yes, this is a world where images rule.

What the image libraries have done for still photography, YouTube and the explosion of video sources have done for the moving image. Now it is sound’s turn. I’ve just been pointed to a great site that is accumulating the sounds of London. The London Sound Survey puts up free stereo recordings that capture the daily life and events of London along with a growing range of historical sounds. The sound bites are fantastic. A product demonstrator promoting a versatile vegetable slicer at a Wembley market. People protesting against the G20 Summit. And something familiar to anyone who has visited London, a station announcer reciting a list of weekend tube closures. The site also features 'See Hear' where you can check out how different areas of London sound like at different times of the day. You’re invited to explore the city through sound.

Sound has had a rollercoaster ride over the last century. Before television, pure sound as radio dominated home entertainment. Now sound has, in many ways, become commodified as every mode of transport, store, or event pumps out noise. But sound, like the other four senses, remains a powerful link to imagination, memory, and the emotions when we simply stop and listen. At this year’s Venice Biennale, one of the key works by the American representative Bruce Nauman was composed purely of sound and won the event’s Golden Lion. I’ve always believed that great artists point the way ahead and that we often follow. Watch out for sound playing an even bigger part in our lives as we move forward.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nature’s 10 Simple Rules: Part 1

I’ve done the helicopter view of Adam Werbach’s book Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto but now’s the time to dig deeper. Right at the front of Adam’s book (and picked up by Fast Company) is a list of Nature’s 10 Simple Rules for Business Survival. In this list Adam draws from nature a tough bottom line for sustainable business. “Nature is far harsher than the market: If you are not sustainable, you die. No second chances and no bailouts.” I’m not usually a fan of rules but these ten make sense to me. They are big-scale – forest-scale. Ocean-scale. Planet-scale. I’ve jotted down my own thoughts on each one. I’ll share them with you here – five this week and five next.

Nature’s # 1. Diversify across generations. This idea has certainly inspired me to write a number of posts here that I’ve called Stella’s World. Of course they are about my and Ro’s first grandchild but they are also about what change across generations can really mean. How few companies have that aspiration! In principle we all want our businesses to thrive across generations, but how few succeed. Adam tells me that fully one-third of the companies profiled in Jim Collins’ Built to Last as out-performers, are now under-performers. Think Ford and Citibank. They lost the juice of excitement, wonder and delight and got lost in expectations and self-obsession.

Nature’s # 2. Adapt to the changing environment – and specialize. To get to the future first you have to take on what I call the three ‘A’s – Adapt, Adopt and Act. It’s worked for children, for animals – for all living things and never forget that businesses are living things too. People are often held back by the feeling that the challenges we face are so great that they can’t effect any meaningful change. My response? If you can’t change the situation, change yourself. At Saatchi & Saatchi we have a True Blue sustainability program called DOT. Do One Thing. In other words, don’t take on the world; specialize. Sure, some of the things people chose to change are small, but put them together and we’re talking serious action. Action that can build as we get more confident about Adapting, Adopting and Acting.

Nature’s # 3. Celebrate transparency. Every species knows which species will eat it and which will not. I like to see transparency as opportunity rather than threat. Take the emotional transparency of Lovemarks. You can’t hide love – and few of us want to. Check out Lovemarks.com and see how that community responds to the brands it loves; openly, without hesitation, with pride. When consumers can push a brand like Tropicana to revert to its traditional packaging in just a few months, something’s up. And what’s up is that consumers are in control. They want confidentiality for themselves and transparency from their Lovemarks. No one said it would be easy.

Nature’s # 4. Plan and execute systematically, not compartmentally. Every part of a plant contributes to its growth. Anyone who has been in business understands the damage caused by silo thinking. Community is key. All of us are better than some of us. In Peak Performance we demonstrated the power of inspirational leadership and teams. Groups of like-minded people working together to overcome all odds and achieve impossible goals. At Saatchi & Saatchi we sum this up in our spirit ‘One team, one dream’. And our dream? “To be revered as the hot-house for world-changing ideas that create sustainable growth for our clients.”

Nature’s # 5. Form groups and protect the young. Most animals travel in flocks, gaggles, and prides. Packs offer strength and efficacy. This is a fantastic rule and the best argument ever for playing in teams. Most young people aren’t educated into creativity; they are educated out of it. At Saatchi & Saatchi we give people an elastic-sided sand box, a problem, a deadline, and we get out of their way. To make sure they reach their full potential we have some older folk around to guide, mentor and run protection when it’s needed. Usually it’s not needed because what they want is responsibility, learning, recognition and joy. All that they get.

* Part 2 continued here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The next train leaves from all platforms

Years ago, when businesses were just starting to use the Web to connect with consumers, I remember wondering if the digital could ever be emotional. Would a Web page ever offer the same emotional impact as a movie, a TVC, or a book? Back then, the Web seemed functional, visually unengaging, and obsessed with detail. Those were the days when an animated banner ad seemed revolutionary! How things change. While the purpose of most Web pages is still to deliver information, the way they do it is becoming increasingly more sisomo (the powerful combination of Sight, Sound, and Motion) and interactive. Last year I could even talk about the emotional Internet and this year we have seen it come into full flower with the Susan Boyle phenomenon. The 110 million YouTube hits on her first breakthrough performance were driven by the pure emotions of surprise, delight, and joy.

The big lesson is that digital is a technology, not a medium. All the various manifestations – email, Web pages, video streaming, Twitter – draw from the same digital source. It’s the same relationship an architectural drawing, a self-portrait, and a handwritten poem have with a pencil. This is an important idea because it helps us to think about all these different digital communications as part of a whole that can be combined in many different ways rather than as a set of unique ideas. Even more, it helps us turn holistic inside out. Instead of the idea of holistic making us as marketers the orchestrators of media of many kinds, we have to start thinking about holistic as describing the experiences of viewers, users, players, and consumers.

There are signs of this major mind shift in some great campaigns. Two terrific examples have been for T-Mobile in the U.K. Not too long ago, the idea of getting a bunch of people to dance in Liverpool Street Station or to sing in Trafalgar Square would have inspired a television commercial. Set ups on this scale cost money, and B.D. (Before 'Dance') the only way to justify the cost was TV. Television remains hugely powerful because it is mass but with 'Dance', Saatchi & Saatchi used mass with agility. 'Dance' and 'Sing Along' on TV primed the pump rather than served as the main event. The TV exposure was small but the impact was huge because people chose to get involved. They shared, they commented, they entertained each other. And where did they do that? On the Internet.

The best news? We have learnt that human behavior is shaping our digital future. That might not seem such a revelation, but for a while there it looked as though technology was setting the pace and for people people (like me), the future didn’t seem a great place to hang out. It’s feeling a lot more fun.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Water world

Well before this blog began, I went on a conservation trip to Antarctica. It’s amazing to think that the Antarctic ice sheet contains around three quarters of all fresh water on Earth. We earthlings are mostly water, and our global supply of this life-giving wonder is under pressure. Over a billion people lack access to safe drinking water, and factors like rising population, falling aquifers, plastic pollution, poor infrastructure, and water wars in arid regions are heating up the water debates. I was in Europe recently discussing the issues with diverse stakeholders in water, and there’s a quickening consensus that the long view is the only view. Whatever your take on it or stake in it, it’s clear we need to re-frame our entire approach to water.

Assuming governments can get water policies right (a big assumption), all of us are still going to have to work together on this. Ideas are the key. Simple, irresistible ideas like the Dave Droga-inspired Tap Project, where restaurant-goers donate one dollar each time they order free tap water. The funds go to UNICEF’s water and sanitation programs. The Lifestraw, a portable drinking filtration system worn around the neck which won the fifth Saatchi & Saatchi Award for World Changing Ideas, is in this same revolutionary space. Thousands of children die daily from unsafe drinking water, and this super straw only sucks up the good stuff. There’s a lot to do at international, national, local, and personal levels. Water connects all of us and we are all going to have to start connecting with water.

An old P&G colleague of mine, John O’Keefe who is principal and Founder of a creative thinking consultancy recently wowed the P&G alumni in Rome with some radical truths and big ideas on water. He’s now looking for like minded folk to join him on the quest.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Strategy for Sustainability

This week Adam Werbach’s book Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto, was launched on the world. Adam is CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S – Saatchi & Saatchi’s specialist sustainability agency, and a great guy, who shares my belief that sustainability is the most realistic strategy for long term business success and business growth. His book comes from the heavyweight Harvard Business Press so it’s been worked over by the business management pros but I found it challenging, fascinating and moving by turn. How many business books can you say that about?

Adam sets out a step-by-step guide to how any business can step up to be the best they can be as sustainability instigators, activists, advocates and champions. This is sustainability as a catalyst not a set of rules and standards to hold you back. The place to start is with what Adam calls your North Star Goal (in our Peak Performance work we call this an Inspirational Dream). Any goal set by the North Star has got to be inspiring, after all it is the star that has been used for thousands of years to find your way home when you are lost and as a trusted guide when you venture into the unknown. To find your own reference point, closely examine current trends and how your business could win advantage from them by improving your business planning and execution. Adam stresses that your North Star goals have to be core to the business, engaging to your people and connected to a higher purpose for the rest of the world.

At Saatchi & Saatchi our North Star Goal is to “help a billion people create their personal sustainability practice through the products and people that touch their lives.” We’ve started with ourselves and the Do One Thing (DOT) program. Already we have 2,000 Saatchi & Saatchi people involved. The magic starts happening when that 2,000 sign up another 10 people each and we will leapfrog to 20,000 and then that 20,000 … you get the picture. It’s exciting, it’s fast, it’s viral.

Paradoxically, it is now with a recession gripping the world, that there are more opportunities to advance sustainability than fewer. At times like these the green washers start to back away from their commitments and we can all see them for what they are. Big promisers taking little action. Adam says in his book that this is the most dynamic moment for business strategy since the Great Depression and I believe he is right. It’s why it is so important that this book is published now when throughout the world businesses are reconsidering their fundamental models. Strategy for Sustainability shows how to make the most of this process and build businesses that are transparent, flexible and make authentic, long-term connections with consumers.

Buy your copy now and get started with what you can do.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Radio City Business

The global financial catastrophe has hit companies, families, and individuals. In the background is the endless expert buzz on whether there’s light ahead, with many economists now saying there is. Well that’s where I sheer off. Not because I want to be a one-time dismal scientist, but because the economic and social consequences of living beyond our means has still got a long way to ripple. There is little spare money and this will squeeze consumers and businesses onto a tighter course. We are living through a structural shift, a historic global event that is tilting capitalism from exclusion to inclusion. This is my hope.

For inspirational leaders, the sorts of threats and challenges prevalent today offer excitement and opportunity. Ideas can come from anywhere; the thing is to recognize them and give them shape. I’m picking it will be ideas around a sustainable future that will get the full treatment at this year’s World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall in New York on 6 and 7 October.

The annual forum debates the most pressing issues of the day. It’s produced by HSM, the top management event and content team with whom I have worked with in Europe and Latin America. The line up in October will include Gary Hamel, President Bill Clinton, George Lucas, Irene Rosenfeld, Jack Welch, Paul Krugman, and Jeffrey Sachs. The topics are for the times, ranging from leadership, innovation and branding, to crunch arenas like energy, health…and storytelling.

I’ll be looking at how to create true value for tough times and beyond. It’s clear to me that sustainability, or what we’ve called True Blue (caring for people first and then the planet), is at the core of creating value. To be “good value”, not just good for the world, marks a tipping point for sustainability. Last year, 500 new sustainable products were launched in the U.S. This year it’s looking to be 1,600. Watch as value gets reframed in ways that build sustainability into everyone’s choices. I believe the next track to sustainability lies more in changing the value equation and less in talking about changing values. At Radio City Music Hall this year, expect this to be the theme tune.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Most Grateful Dead Songs Named in 30 Seconds

When I was a kid, The Guinness Book of Records (now Guinness World Records) was something we poured over. Some of the records were incredible, some outrageous, and some were, well, unbelievable. The reason we did believe them was, of course, because the Guinness organization seemed to have a rigorous set of rules with high standards of proof for each record set or broken.

Fast forward a few decades and enter the world as shaped by Wikipedia – the global encyclopaedia that is self-generating, self-monitoring, and self-healing. The result is crowd wisdom on an unprecedented scale and a fantastic example of how power has shifted to the people with a vengeance. Now thanks to one of Saatchi & Saatchi’s creatives, I have discovered The Universal Record Database. Not exactly a catchy name and not a place you’d expect to find Kevin Roberts, until you understand that this is the Guinness Book of Records meets Jackass meets Wikipedia. The site is still in BETA but its aspirations are enormous. It aspires to be nothing less than the definitive site for human achievement based on its belief that every person on earth has the potential to be the world’s best ‘something’. What your ‘something’ is depends on the limits of your imagination – and judging from the site so far, most people are not limited in that department. From the most mouse clicks in nine seconds to the most Grateful Dead songs named in 30 seconds, the records keep coming. Last time I looked, the top rated record was the Longest Sword Swallowed in Shark Infested Water. For your reference, it was 24 inches (61 centimetres).

Before you dismiss this as just a bunch of kids fooling around, let me say three things. First up, the site is sharp, all hyperlinks work, it’s easy to get around, you understand instantly what’s going on and how to participate. Try getting that on most brand websites. Second, the uptake has been huge. People want to come here and play. Why is the response so strong? Because URDB combines a fun experience with a chance to compete and throws in some old school aspiration. Try finding that in most brand offerings. Third, the principles of The Universal Record Database are simply brilliant. 1. Honesty and accuracy are pretty much everything, 2. Don't hurt yourself. Don't hurt others. Don't hurt the planet. 3. Waste sucks.

If I were running Guinness World Records, I’d be watching. Hard.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tweeting the future

When the telephone was invented, no one really knew what to do with it. It was thought that it might be a great way to broadcast useful information, and perhaps, music. The thought of one person talking to another was not even considered a possibility. There were sensible reasons (also known as prejudices) for that, of course. Speaking to someone without first having been properly introduced was considered poor form, as was talking to people below you on the social pecking order. Such unfortunate events were frighteningly possible if the telephone was unleashed. However, The People stepped in and everything changed. Before long, the telephone found its true purpose: making connections.

Technologies often take a while to find their feet. The Internet, which was started to protect military information from attack, is now a worldwide network connecting billions of people. The phone is transforming, through mobility, into a powerful life support center – communications, organization, entertainment...you name it, the mobile phone can do it. So what’s going to happen to Twitter? This remarkable phenomenon born out of the status bar on Facebook (now called 'What’s on Your Mind?') sends millions of short (less than 140 characters, and that includes spaces and punctuation) messages each day. Something about the Twitter format has proved irresistible to us. Like texting, it keeps you in the flow. You don’t have to make a lot of effort, and you can truly reach out and touch somebody.

Now businesses are becoming tweet-friendly. I’ve heard that the attendance at some meetings have been slashed (that’s got to be a good thing) with a small core team meeting and tweeting about what’s happening. Good-bye meetings for catch-up, background, or holding territory. Maybe Twitter is the ideal form for Winning Ugly – fast, focused, and functional.

Last week, I visited a site that provided a glimpse into another possible future for Twitter. Open Brands calls itself a social brand monitor. By combing through the globe’s tweets, it finds and gathers comments on specific brands. What you get is a real time look into what people are thinking about a brand, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. If you want to know what people are thinking about Oprah after a particular show, just scroll through the tweets. I was riveted by the Toyota tweets. It was like dipping into a stream of authentic engagement with a mix of commentary, opinion, pointers to interesting articles, and responses to other tweets. Fascinating. It felt like people were inventing the future.