Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Game On

The gaming industry just seems to be getting bigger and bigger, agglomerating communities with intensely immersive experiences and interactivity that grabs you mind, heart and body. New game releases are blockbuster events, amassing sales in the hundreds of millions overnight – the recently released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 topped $775 million in five days.

Emotion is behind the movement. Game makers are creating deep bonds with consumers through Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy. Story-telling is hugely important too. Many of the most successful games are built on a rich mythology, extreme foreign worlds or basic but compelling fairytales (think of Angry Birds wreaking their vengeance on a group of green pigs that have fried their eggs). This is Lovemarks territory.

To connect in a powerful way you have to know your client, customer or consumer, what his or her dreams and aspirations are, what makes their heart beat faster. The top game makers get it. Check out this inspirational story where Electronic Arts listened to the voice of the consumer: EA had missed a critical element in its NHL game – the fact that it had no female player option even though 65,000 girls now play hockey in the US – and moved to put it right (as the great Wayne Gretzky says, they headed where the puck’s going, not where it is now). Now the game has a new face.

There are plenty of lessons brands can take away from the rise and rise of the gaming industry, but maybe the most important is its focus on creating moments of pure joy. This is the raison detré of games – no joy, no point, and no profit for countless hours and millions invested in research, product development and marketing. So here’s one question for today: How does your brand bring joy to people’s lives? Find the answer, and it’s game on.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Landslide For A Landmark

It’s official. Creativity has won the controversial public vote to choose the sign that will spread across the hillside near Wellington International Airport, welcoming tourists and travelers to the city. The airport is adjacent to the world-changing New Zealand movie studios of Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor. The sign-on-the-hill-by-the-airport started out as a homage and marker for the movie industry, but many locals weren’t chuffed on some of the possibilities, language being a tricky thing to get right. So it got put to a vote. Out of three final contenders, Wellingtonians have chosen the Saatchi & Saatchi creation ‘Wellington Blown Away’, a creative treatment of the capital’s name, with the last few letters whipped about by the city’s often-present wind (reportedly getting up to 100 kmph this week).

Blown Away dominated the shortlist for the final run-off (as posted a few weeks ago), and made short work of the other two options when it came to the crunch. Of the 33,027 votes cast, Wellington Blown Away won 18,862 – 57% of the vote. Congratulations to Matt Sellars and Ray McKay of Saatchi & Saatchi Auckland who got in touch with their inner Wellingtonianesss to create the design. Matt and Ray’s handiwork will be up for all to see from March next year. The beautiful Eye of the Taniwha design by Wellington tattoo artist Stephen Maddock came in second.

Congratulations also to Wellington Airport for embarking on this adventure. The “Wild At Heart” Airport has just won a prestigious architectural award for its new international terminal aka The Rocks, further underlying the city’s reputation as an innovative place to land.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Prison Break

New Zealand’s general election has come and gone and one of the issues that didn’t get airtime was how the country tackles its imprisonment rates. We’re 65th worst out of 216 countries, hardly on the right side of the equation for a country that is pre-destined to be world-changing. This really matters – it’s a challenge for every New Zealander to get engaged – and enraged – about, and which should have leaders sweating creative and committed policy. Every person in prison represents a systemic (and family) failure. It’s an ugly equation for all concerned.

In relative terms a number of New Zealand’s crime statistics are healthier than those of other countries. Nothing in the world beats the murder rate in the US. But imprisonment rates in New Zealand are high – 199 per 100,000 – and ironically for us, a full one third higher than Australia. While undoubtedly prisons have an important role to play in responding to crime, what this approach often fails to recognise is that – in the words of NZ-US leadership psychologist John Wareham: “All prisons are mental prisons. They lock from the inside and you own the key, so only you can let yourself out."

John knows. As well as coaching international executives, he has spent several years working with inmates at New York’s Rikers Island prison, the world’s largest, helping to liberate people from negative mindsets so they can change their lives for the better. His book How to Break Out of Prison concentrates his wisdom on the subject and he’s continuing to do groundbreaking stuff – like holding a retreat with Denis O’Reilly earlier this year for members of gangs in Hawke’s Bay on Fatherhood, Gangs, Drugs and Choices. As a long-time supporter of the Turn Your Life Around (TYLA) Trust, a programme to inspire and re-direct at-risk young people, it’s an approach I believe in, heart and soul.

Recent suggestions of a decline in the level of incarceration in New Zealand and the possibility of a further drop over time are welcome, especially as Corrections has been trending to becoming the biggest government department, a billion-dollar business. This is a classic case of the need for exceptionalism – why be happy with a gradual ascent into “respectable” territory when we could be world leaders? Finland had a remarkable turnaround from 190 people in 100,000 in prison in the 1950s to about 70 in 2006. An academic paper Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess contains a remarkable story that we are miles away from matching with current policies and practices. There is a very high correlation between alcohol, drugs, and illiteracy – and commiting crime again and again. There are few resources in the New Zealand criminal justice system addressing these needs.

It’s time to believe in something better and stage our own escape.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Greening The Rubble

One of the inspirational stories to emerge from the Christchurch earthquake has been how different volunteer groups have come together to help with the recovery. Among the most famous is the University of Christchurch Student Army. After the February quake more than 10,000 people joined the group’s Facebook site in less than 24 hours, and the workforce was mobilised to clear streets of silt and muck, help the elderly to put their homes back in order and so on. It was uplifting to see how the often maligned “youth of today” (I’m thinking of London) stood up in the city’s time of greatest need.

In that vein, here’s another great grassroots, student-powered movement in the Garden City that’s reviving the streets with creativity. Greening the Rubble is making temporary public parks and gardens while master planning for the new Christchurch is underway. Using reconstituted wreckage and debris, Greening the Rubble volunteers are bringing purpose and order to properties around the city that might otherwise lie untouched for months or years, until the owners are ready to re-develop. And so fallen bricks are painted and used to fill gabions, forming colourful garden frames. Plants are rescued from the inner city cordon. Planter walls are made from pallets. Recycled timber planks are used as seat tops. Generous businesses are providing many other things needed for the effort. This is the irrepressible spirit of creative Canterbury people.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Who Cares?

Scientists have discovered that we’re engineered for kindness – or not. The caring button is a genetic trait that determines how we respond to oxytocin (aka the “love” hormone); some of us have it, some of us don’t; most people can spot it a mile off.

In an experiment at the University of Oregon nine out of 10 neutral observers correctly identified carriers of the “A” version of the kindness gene, who are less inclined to feel positive, or to feel (say) parental sensitivity. On the other hand six out of 10 could spot those carrying the “GG” genotype – people with this genetic variation are generally seen as more empathetic, trusting and loving.

Perhaps to settle the nerves of the unloving by nature the researchers add that no gene trait can completely predict how we behave. But if you want to prove you’re hardwired to care, go spread some love today. If you want to start a revolution, pick out an “A” type and be kind to them. And next time someone’s mean to you, tell them they’re being … genetic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Space Savers

The UK is drowning in junk. In seven years there will be nowhere left to put it – check out this story on Packington (which sounds suspiciously like “pack it in”), one of the many landfills surging towards capacity. It covers about 380 acres and contains more than 18.5 million tons of rubbish. The height of a skyscraper where once there was flat land, it is, literally, a waste of space.

Answers to problems this big come in DOT (Do One Thing) form, multiplied by collective action. One good idea to emerge from a conversation with a waste tip supervisor is the world’s first paper wine bottle made by packaging company GreenBottle. It weighs about a tenth of a glass bottle, has a tenth of the carbon footprint, and is compostable, gone in a matter of weeks. More exciting is the inventor’s quiet comment that he can be more radical yet with the bottle’s design – so far he’s stuck to the conventional shape to stop wine shoppers going into shock. I say mix it up – stun me!

This is the unreasonable power of creativity at work, rescuing the world one idea at a time – here are a few more eco-innovations, movements and machines to bend your mind, saving space and resources: e-paper; cardboard vacuum cleaners; lawn couches; virtual water; Boeing’s new Dreamliner.

Monday, November 21, 2011

You’ve Got Mail – Only This Time It’s Cool

Conventional mail went through ultra-commodification years ago. Once the letterbox was a rich emotional reservoir of letters, postcards and parcels, but today it’s often the domain of the bill, brutally rational and loveless.

Which is why I like the sound of notanotherbill.com, a subscription service created by Ned Corbett-Winder after a friend complained of never getting any post at work. Sign up and Ned will guarantee that once a month something surprising and uplifting will turn up in the mail. His gifts are the stuff of attics, vintage fairs and antique shops: rubber stamps, stationery kits, silkscreen prints and other designer curios, beautifully wrapped and labeled “smile, I’m not a bank statement”. It’s Mysterious, Sensual and Intimate, everything mail ought to be.

The beating heart of this business is the charm of the unexpected, and like all generous people Ned has an open source approach – if you make beautiful things or have an idea you’d like to share, he’s keen to hear from you. Nice work, Ned – the world needs more surprises of the good kind.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Come On Mate, Gimme A Hug

Here’s one to rattle the cage of True Blue Aussie Blokes who prefer a handshake to a hug. A study has found that Australian men who love a good hug are happier and healthier than those who don’t, and also tend to bank more. Australian men in households making over $100k per year are huge huggers. Their cobbers in households with incomes less than $30k are much less inclined to hug (and are probably miserable). And hugging seems to be catching on – 37% of the men surveyed enjoyed hugging and did it often, compared to just 29% who preferred to play it cool.

All of this pretty much leaves for dead the case for the laconic Aussie bloke who prefers to leave physical contact on the sportsfield. Plus imagine what a world of healthy hugging men with bigger bank balances would do for the global economy! Here’s the message to the holdouts: hugs = health and happiness. It’s time to embrace change, mate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Case for Exceptionalism

Coinciding with an abundance of new life in spring throughout New Zealand’s countryside is a refreshed University of Auckland Business Review. I was invited to contribute to the new edition in my capacity as the Auckland Business School’s Honorary Professor of Innovation and Creativity. This particular issue looks at ‘Life at the Edge’, and how this geographical attribute has influenced the mindset and determination of a relatively young nation to create and deliver exceptional stories.

New Zealand is a critical part of my intellectual and operational infrastructure. I believe in Edge theory and I live it to the max – it’s the idea that change happens at the margins, free from the stifling orthodoxy of the centre. As a country of five million on the edge, New Zealand has built a reputation as a hot house for world changing ideas, led by exceptional people – highly capable of making things happen.

Language starts revolution, and the Edge metaphor is an antidote to the “gunna do” attitude that has also seeped through New Zealand culture. Isolation breeds complacency. The conditions in New Zealand are very nice which can promote a “lifestyle island” mentality rather than a “storm the bridge” attitude. My dream is “winning with world from the edge” – not pulling up a deck chair in the sun. We need to get hot under the collar about excellence, about the business of communicating this to the world. In short, we need a culture of exceptionalism. The platform is well-established, what is missing is the mechanisms and drive to build international scale. Support for succeeding overseas still largely consists of waving them off at the airport.

There are many stimulating and provocative stories in this ABR, including the need to leverage the lessons from the 100% Pure brand by creating a national export brand identity; the power of our overseas population as a global force for the national good; leadership NKiwi-style; and how, if and why the country should harvest its mineral resources. The writing cast is a sharp ensemble of Auckland University academics; total reading time a tight 59 minutes; potential value if implemented with abandon: immense.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Breaking News

Extra! Tablet users are reading more in-depth stories, a study by the Pew Research Centre has found. This is a great example of technology creating room for reflection rather than just mercilessly crunching information down to the smallest possible unit (ala the tweet, the text, the status update).

Hopefully this is a trend that stirs a renaissance in real news, reporting with guts that keeps you going. The challenge for journos and content creators – as ever – will be to deliver with depth while the story is still hot. Maybe the answer is more collaboration, teams of writers pulling together to create killer stories at speed. This also calls for old fashioned reporting values – a nose for news and the tenacity to track it down, fast. It’s time to unleash the newshounds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Siri-ous Stuff

The capabilities of devices like the iPad and iPhone are the kind of thing you could only dream of a few decades a go. And apparently that’s exactly what Apple was doing, light-years ahead as usual. This 1987 concept video for the Apple Knowledge Navigator – an iPad-like device with a built in virtual assistant – is set in an imaginary September 2011, breathtakingly close to last month’s release of the iPhone 4 with built-in PA, Siri (nice spotting Andy Baio).

But now that your phone can speak, should it do so with a male or a female voice? Curiously, the new iPhone’s Siri is female in the US model, male in the UK. Here’s a good blog on some of the conspiracy theories – the suggestion is that there’s still a view that the male voice is inherently more authoritative. Politics of gender aside, maybe Siri’s sex isn’t the most important thing – maybe what matters most is where on earth
(s)he’s from. Siri seems to cope with most accents, but check out this video of a frustrated Scot trying to create a reminder…

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Scribing

Creative expression is a wonderful thing. It makes you feel alive. Small wonder then, that one of the most enduring forms of self-expression, writing, should turn out to be good for our physical and emotional health.

Real stories come from the successes and failures, joys and sorrows of everyday life. And 20 years of research tells us that devoting 15 minutes each day to writing about what we’ve experienced, felt or dwelt on can help improve almost any ailment, body or mind (so says the Sydney Morning Herald).

Psychologists call it “expressive writing” – a kind of healthy expression focused on the release of emotions. But unlike (say) blogging there’s no audience, giving people the complete freedom to unleash their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. That makes you feel good.

But the feel-good factor is just the start. Regular, deliberate expressive writing can help control cancer-related pain, reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis and increase lung function amongst the asthmatic. Of course you don’t need to be seriously unwell to reap the health benefits. Writing can also improve immunity, blood pressure and memory. So next time you’re feeling down or out of sorts – write it up! Happy scribing...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Of Course You’re Nuts

Being a sports nut is serious stuff, and there’s nothing like some numbers to back you up when you’re settling into full bragging mode. So to this article from the New York Times directing punters to an intriguing website Greatest Sporting Nation founded by a Brit, an Italian and Kiwi (all nationalities of my family).

It’s an ambitious attempt by and for sports lovers to work out the best nation in the world across all sports. Under the methodology a country scores qualifying points by finishing in the top eight in qualifying events, with qualifying points being weighted to produce points. The current Global Cup holder benefits a lot from its broad range of success in women’s sports.

It seems clear that the project is a work in progress. How to factor motor sports where there are multiple inputs from driver to manufacturer? Where are sports involving animals – who won the race, the man or the horse!? How to factor in top football clubs with multi-national line ups?

Despite room for improvement this is a passionate and worthy attempt at a Global Cup to sort out which is the top nation across all sport. I like how the project has a Per Capita Cup, currently topped by the fastest country on two legs, Jamaica, followed by Norway (Norway?!*#) and then rugby-mad New Zealand. Here’s to the crazy ones and the countries on the Edge.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wellington Blown Away

In the heat of the campaign leading up to New Zealand’s general election another vote-off has gripped the fertile hearts and minds of Wellingtonians. The vote is to decide on an iconic sign to grace the hillside near Wellington airport that greets you as you fly into and out of the capital. This is territory where angels fear to tread – whatever ends up on the cutting will brand the city; get it wrong and the passionate locals will have you for breakfast with a hot latte.

Which is almost what happened. The original idea put forward by the airport (which owns the land) was “Wellywood”, a nod to Wellington’s acclaimed film industry. It was panned by the critics. The city paper, The DominionPost reported that a Facebook page was shut down after plots were put forward to blow up and set fire to the sign. A brewery offered free crates of beer for whoever knocked it down, no questions asked.

To its credit the airport opened the whole thing up for debate, inviting ideas for alternatives. And the team from Saatchi & Saatchi Wellington – creators of the Absolutely Positively Wellington campaign that sold Wellingtonians on Wellington in the 90s – has come up with the goods. The team’s “Wellington Blown Away” design has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to go up against the Wellywood option in a public vote, along with a second creative alternative, the eye of a Taniwha (a mythical monster of Maori legend) staring out of the hillside. The two alternatives were selected through a preliminary vote on ideas from the public, with Wellington Blown Away picking up 46% of votes, the Taniwha 10%. Now it’s time to pick a winner – today’s final vote will be binding.

Anyone who’s ever been to Wellington knows it’s windy as anything. It’s also a vibrant, innovative place, where people make things happen. Poet Lauris Edmond called it the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb. I reckon a moniker that celebrates that creative restlessness and that sense of constant movement you find in any of the world’s great cities is the way to go. Let’s hope Wellington Blown Away is a sign of things to come.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blackberry Heaven

Over the years I’ve been invited to speak at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and The Royal Albert Hall in London, but never before to a tent in Tennessee. After a week of non-stop meetings in New York and the Midwest, Blackberry Farm near Knoxville, Tennessee was a welcome haven. I had been invited by the Southern 7 Chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization to speak about leadership, winning, and being creative in business, to a weekend retreat of company founders, owners and CEOs and their wives. (Don’t worry, I’ve spoken to Women Presidents, they’re riotous as well). YPO is an impressive international organization – founded for the purpose of fostering leadership among US business leaders especially at a regional level. They’re people involved in transport, logistics, capital, distribution, food service, energy efficiency, engineering and a bunch of other complex businesses. Some have built their companies to over 1,000 employees. For me it was an opportunity to get to know a part of the US I had never been to.

This was a case of first time lucky. Blackberry Farm is a 4200 acre farm and lodge set in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in the southern Appalachians, and in Fall about as beautiful as you can get. (If you think Knoxville, population 184,000, is in the sticks, thing again, it is the access point to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one of the world’s most significant science centers). Fellow speakers were political strategist and pollster Frank Luntz, former Tennessee Governor and current four-time Senior Senator (R) for Tennessee Lamar Alexander (check him out, as well being as a top legislator and new energy advocate, he’s a classical and country pianist), and Chief Creative Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering Bruce Vaughn. The event was chaired by Clay Sifford and his wife Dorothy. Clay is founder and CEO of Ovation, designers and producers of live events based in Nashville. A top man, and a good friend.

I had ridden with the Imagineer in the car on the way in from Knoxville Airport and I was keen to hear the inner secrets of the “illusion of life” that is Walt Disney theme parks, resorts, cruises, retail and restaurants. Bruce is in a business that has been called “fear minus death equals fun” (that’s the rollercoasters). The five lessons of the Imagineers he shared were:
• Create what people didn’t know what they wanted – and cannot live without
• Cast the best talent
• Know who you are, be who you are
• Know your competitors from your disruptors
• Keep moving forward

And the Blackberry Farm team delivered all five. We’ll be back.

Bruce Vaughn, Disney Imagineer

Pictures by Brian Joseph

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Impulse… bye.

Retail alert! Businessweek reports that impulse shopping is on the decline. The screen is displacing the store, more people are doing their research online (the Zero Moment of Truth) before leaving home, rather than browsing the shelves to find what they want. Less time spent browsing means those unplanned purchases are less likely to happen. Shoppers are hitting the stores like laser-guided bombs, trained on their targets, nothing more, nothing less.

It’s time to turn up the heat in retail land. If you haven’t already, it’s time to reshape the shopping experience, making the store a place where consumers want to be, inviting, embracing, alluring - somewhere to linger and maybe make those additional purchases after all. This runs counter to the mindset that says the more difficult you make it for the consumer to find what they really want, the more they’ll buy of the other stuff. Swap distraction for attraction, discount aisles for dreamwalks, pressure for pampering.

This is also a fresh call for brands to make the leap to Lovemarks. Impulse buyers are fair-weather friends, and the forecast is pretty stormy right now. You need to be the one that the consumer is fixed on; fire up the emotion, become irresistible, make love your tractor beam.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Double Fantasy

In June this year I was in Bermuda, celebrating 50 years of AAC Saatchi & Saatchi making waves and shaking things up in the North Atlantic. We’re not the only ones moved by the island – Bermuda was a source of inspiration for John Lennon, who wrote an album called Double Fantasy, after a type of flower he saw in the Bermudian botanical gardens. Lennon thought the name perfectly summed up his marriage to Yoko Ono, and the album is a musical conversation between husband and wife, also featuring songs by Yoko. Three weeks after the album’s release Lennon was tragically killed, making his Bermudian odyssey his last living work and a deep tribute to the couple’s love.

That was in 1980. Now Bermuda’s creative community is preparing to honor Lennon’s this legacy with a special project: A commemorative sculpture they hope will draw Lennon fans the world over to celebrate a music icon and see for themselves a place that inspired him. Yoko was delighted with the design options (she gave the final choice to Bermuda’s Masterworks Museum), which symbolise John, Double Fantasy, the flower and Bermuda. Alongside this, a musical tribute is being put together, featuring artists from the island and others who have performed there, especially from the 40 Thieves where Lennon spent a memorable evening. His long talk with journalists at the club contributed to the song “Watching the Wheels” on Double Fantasy.

I’m a fan of Lennon, Bermuda and the whole idea. The project goes live in June 2012. To listen to the beating heart behind it, check the video here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Job Watch

So who is really happy at work? The General Social Survey by the National Organisation for Research at the University of Chicago found the 10 happiest and 10 most hated jobs. According to the results members of the clergy have the happiest calling, followed by fire-fighters and physical therapists. On the flip side it seems that directors of IT, directors of sales and electronics technicians aren’t skipping to the office every morning.

I tend to take these things with a grain of salt. Any job is what you make of it – attitude, elbow grease and a good measure of chutzpah will get you anywhere. But if you’re in the market for a career change maybe you should avoid positions selling software to grumpy geeks and dodgy circuit board repairmen… just in case. And stay on the lookout for any fire-fighter chaplains who give killer massages – they might just be the happiest person you ever meet!