Thursday, August 29, 2013

President Shimon Peres on Amazon

Amazon.com is constantly evolving and adding value to its products. Its latest idea has been to launch a series of interviews with world leaders, called the Kindle Single Series. It nailed it with its debut edition, providing a brilliant interview with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

It’s no secret that I’m a great admirer of President Peres. I have written on this blog about having the privilege of meeting him during a visit to Israel and the inspiration he imparted to me during our brief time together. He is a man of wisdom, humanity and grace. A Nobel Peace Prize winner. Honored with the President Medial of Freedom in the USA.

Shimon Peres is also nearing his 90th birthday and the insights this interview draws out are beautiful. You might think, given he is coming toward the end of his life, that he spends a lot of time reflecting on what he has seen and done. But he is quick to point out that he doesn't like to waste his time thinking about the past. President Peres takes great pleasure in meditating on the technological advancements of today’s age. Neuroscience, social media, digital technology. He understands that the world is run on ideas. It’s not about wealth or strength. It’s about smarts. Creativity. Passion.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Embracing Contradictions

Peter Grauer is head of a $7 billion business. He is the CEO of Bloomberg, the global financial media and data company, and attributes scoring his job to his daughter’s love of riding horses. Mind you, it helped that he was qualified. Peter became friends with the company’s founder, Michael Bloomberg, back in 1989. The pair chatted about life while their daughters took horseback riding lessons. Bloomberg went on to become Mayor of New York and turned to Grauer to replace him as the head of his company.

The point being, of course, you never know when or where you will meet the contact that changes your life. Grauer was retelling this story at this year’s Wharton Leadership Conference. Like myself, he is a committed ‘And/And’ practitioner and not afraid to preach it.

Grauer talks about embracing our personal contradictions. The best leaders are those that “exemplify a line from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself": "Do I contradict myself? ... I am large, I contain multitudes." Amen. You can be a big thinker and details oriented. You can drive the action and stand back and reflect. There is no either/or. It’s And/And.

It’s a waste of time trying to confine leadership to one or two attributes. It’s about what you can do, not what you can’t. Where Grauer struck another chord with me was on his reflection that intimacy is vital. It is important to relate to people on a human level. Look in their eyes while shaking their hands. Learn something about them. These are lessons he has learned over time and I join him when he says: “I believe that a career is a long reflection on self-improvement."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leading Both Sides of the Tasman

Leadership. It’s one word, but it tells a big story. It’s a tale of one person’s effect on many people, be it a small group, a team, a nation. Too often people mistake leaders and managers as being from the same stock. They are not. They’re not even close. Only leaders inspire success. Only leaders drive things forward.

Sport is an obvious arena in which to find good leaders because leadership is a natural requirement of the game. The Sydney Morning Herald ran an interesting analysis of the key attributes on display in Australian captains. Different people lead in different ways but the characteristics that stand out are charisma, strength, loyalty, passion and pride. Jump across the Tasman and those attributes can be found in New Zealand’s sporting heroes.

Richie McCaw: Calm, confident, assured. A leader by example. Powerful and clinical on the field, he has more than just his teammates’ trust, he has the nation’s. No captain has a higher winning percentage than McCaw does in the history of the game.

Brendan McCullum: Exciting, passionate and driven. McCullum is super-competitive. He sets out to disprove critics and inspires his teammates to believe in the impossible. He’s not satisfied with just competing, he wants to win and his confidence is rubbing off on the country.

Ryan Nelson: The team man. Respected and admired on and off the pitch. He put everyone else’s needs before his own – whether it was for Blackburn, Tottenham or the All Whites. His legacy isn’t just as a player, it’s as an individual.

Simon Mannering: A no-frills leader. Mannering is the engine room of New Zealand rugby league. Physically strong and durable, he does the dirty work so that others can shine, all while exuding modesty and calm.

Dean Barker: The master tactician. Yachting is a technical sport and Barker has earned his stripes by putting in the hard yards and learning to trust his instinct. He is all about precision. Getting his team running smoothly. Practice, practice, practice. It’s his key to success.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Dream Team

I have worked with some sensational people in my lifetime. People who have motivated, inspired and confounded me. It seemed less important when I was young and focused on carving out, but it is clear to me now. None of us is as strong as all of us.

Creating and maintaining formidable teams is an art. Get it right and the juices flow. Satisfaction soars. Business booms. Get it wrong and it’s a long, downhill struggle to nowhere. Discontent spreads like a virus.

It was this article from the Barking Up the Tree blog that provoked me to ponder the best teams I have worked in and what made us such a creative force. The key factors it highlights are logical, though it covers just of slice of the theories about on this. Hire people with social smarts above pure academics; have a mix of experience, youth and gender; set clear goals and roles; have a strong company narrative; reward star performers; and team trust is defined by the least trusted member (you’re as strong as your weakest link). All good; to add are emotive drivers for holding people together.
  • Change the language: Create language that is unique to the strengths and challenges of your team. When people use a common vocabulary they are more likely to be on the same page.
  • Practice: A team practices together to get in flow. As a result, each individual knows their role and the right decisions can be made in a split-second. Mentally the team becomes stronger, emotionally they are more confident. This is not just sport talking.
  • Have fun: All work and no play makes Jack and Jill terribly dull. It is a sad place where people don’t laugh together. Celebrate, invigorate, add humor.
More to come on this subject. There are some good insights to come from The Chiefs, and Waikato New Zealand rugby XV which has just won the Super 15 Championship in gripping style. Culture and family are vital elements in this team.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Crisis, She Stimulates

When asked if financial crisis was a distraction or a boom for inspiration, British artist David Hockney said, “inspiration, she never visits the lazy... Crisis, she stimulates.”

Given the level of innovation that has occurred in austere times, Hockney was fairly accurate. Without The Great Depression we would never have experienced the chocolate chip cookie, Monopoly, the car radio or the photocopier!

The oil shocks in the 1970s perhaps led to one of the biggest evolutions in technology in the past 50 years. During this time, the US government invested heavily in military research they hoped would lead to the design of integrated circuit chips small and strong enough to withstand the blast of nuclear weaponry. By the early 1980s, it became clear that these chips could be used to minimize dozens of small appliances, and so came the personal home computer, the Walkman, and the portable phone.

Beyond inventions, times of crisis are boom-times for small goods, like cupcakes, lipsticks, and apps. The basis being that when people can’t justify buying a new car or a new house, they can justify $3 for a treat, or $30 for something that will lift their mood, or a bit more for something to stop themselves feeling like we’re standing still.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I'm Possible


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Einstein Nailed It

Albert Einstein once said: “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” He was right. But across the world, the art of teaching creativity – and awakening joy in the process - is being buried. Instead, our education systems are intently focused on standardized testing, which ensures that the goal is to meet minimum numeracy and literacy levels.

The intention is good. Children need the basics, but they also need to learn how to think outside of the boxes society has presented to them. They also need to learn how to use creativity to lead their peer groups, within the home and in their communities.

American teachers strongly believe they are responsible for instilling creativity in the classroom. They also believe their current system doesn’t value it. In Australia, the UK and Germany, teachers tend to believe schooling creative thinking is the role of other educators. As the finger keeps being pointed in different directions, ultimately it’s the kids who are missing out.

Here is where I believe business leaders can step in and get involved. The biggest constraint on what students can do is what they think they can do. And who else knows the road than those of us who have gone before? We need to share our experiences, be honest about where we have come from and who we are, and what it has taken for us to get here. Business can provide opportunities that will spark young dreams, hopes and goals. It takes us forward and help secure our future.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Sad Day for Me Today

Thirty years ago I met a tall, charismatic, young, brilliant Palestinian called Saad Abdul-Latif. He was working at Pepsi-Co in the Middle East when I joined them as Director of Operations. Saad was a graduate of Thunderbird Arizona and was blessed with an optimistic, problem-solving attititude one rarely encounters. He made it from a tough background and we promoted him consistently through various marketing positions in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia. He subsequently became one of Pepsico's top executives and achieved the lofty heights of CEO Pepsi-Co for Asia, Middle East and Africa.

Today I heard that Saad passed away. The world is a darker place. Pepsi-Co Chairman, Indra Nooyi, wrote "Saad was much more than a business leader. He was brave. He was loyal. He was a teacher. He loved his family." All true.

One of my greatest memories is of Saad's wedding when my eldest son, Ben, sat proudly on Saad's knee. Ben has become a big man too and I can't help but think Saad played a positive role in my son's growth. As he did for many.

We'll miss him.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Magazineternity

Men’s magazine Port did a cover story for its summer issue on the future of print media, describing a new golden age of magazine publishing. It created some controversy featuring, as it did, six white male editors in suits on its black and white cover, from select publications, to represent its viewpoint.

The ideas covered included the magazine’s ongoing viability, designed nature, storytelling purpose, physicality, the multi-tasking of today’s editors, the need for consistency, and the impact of and relationship with screens.

As an old(ish) white male I don’t exactly diversify the equation but I do love print magazines and think they will live forever.

Magazines are eternal because no matter how many media channels arrive, people will always want great stories and as a lean-back format, the print magazine is a better storytelling format than most screens. As a medium, it’s incredibly visual, simple to use, super-relaxing, mysterious, portable, sharable, sensual and affordable.

The challenge for magazines, as with all media, is to tell stories that people care about; to become part of an unfolding narrative that connects across media and into lives in unique ways. Great stories command premiums and the magazines that succeed will be ideas factories assembling design, images and content in ways that people love.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Game Changers

The Harvard Business Review recently highlighted the fine example of Sir Peter Jackson to describe what its authors call ‘The Innovation Mindset’. Peter is, as they say, a game changer. His impact on cinema has been extraordinary. What caught my attention was the article’s reference to 'And Thinking' - what I call And/And - as a key feature of the innovation mindset being described.

Peter completely rewrote the rules when he made the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He looked at the project and thought: this needs a simple strategy and complex execution; this needs to be made locally and seen globally; these movies need to be of the highest quality and be made at the lowest cost. It wasn't a case of Either/Or. He embraced paradox.

From there it was a case of finding creative solutions. Ignore the status-quo. Smash restrictive barriers. He convinced the studios to film all three movies in one hit. And do it all in New Zealand. And back the creation of Weta Workshop in Wellington.

We all know the story from there. They backed him. The box office takings from the first film alone trebled the production costs. You can imagine how many cynics there were back in Hollywood. People who sat waiting for Peter to spectacularly fail. But he was resourceful, focused on the outcomes, and saw opportunity where they couldn’t.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Springsteen & I


"Hope", "trust", "togetherness" are three words that many brands aspire to, but while they sit around the boardroom discussing how they might achieve this, these are words people use to describe their experience with one man doing little more than being himself. Bruce Springsteen has created a following that transcends generations and doesn’t seem to fade. And now there’s a great movie that shows that.

Springsteen & I is a documentary on the life and career of Springsteen through the eyes and experiences of his avid fans. The film is a showcase of the emotions that Springsteen fans have for the storytelling songwriter and looks at how he makes them feel. "This isn't the giddy, squealing obsession of the teenage girl, but a kind of slow-cooked, long-steeped love for an artist. And it is rooted not just in his music, in his lyrics, but in the idea of Bruce Springsteen himself, in what he has come to represent," wrote The Guardian’s Laura Barton.

In her story on the diehard nature of Springsteen fans, she quotes a fan who wrote to her about the powerful effect that ‘Born to Run’ had on him, "That song was so exciting and invigorating, it gave me a new lease of life – rather, a new purpose in life." Not that he needs it, but more proof of The Boss as a Lovemark.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Retraining the Brain

I freely admit I don’t have a lot of time for pessimists. I like ideas. Solutions. Ambition. Problems, to me, exist only because they haven’t been solved. The difficulty with pessimists is they tend to focus on the problem. They then look for problems with the solution.

A lot of us just accept that it’s a personality issue. A state of mind that can’t be changed. But science is now proving that that’s a load of bollocks. The human brain is a remarkable thing and is capable of changing the way it works – if we want it to.

The BBC took a look at the science behind personalities in a recent documentary. Presenter Michael Mosley, a sufferer of chronic insomnia for two decades, had his brain tested at Essex University by Professor Elaine Fox. Professor Fox found that he had more activity in the parts of his brain associated with negativity and suggested he undertake two forms of mental training daily.

For seven weeks he undertook basic meditation for 20 minutes a day, focusing on his breathing. Secondly, he stared at a computer screen filled with blank or angry faces and one smiley face. Identifying and clicking on the smiley face triggered a new set of faces. And so on. When he returned after seven weeks, Mosley felt his mood had lifted. He was sleeping better and felt happier. His brain scan backed it up. His brain activity was more equalised.

As a radical optimist, I’m not at all surprised by these findings. But then I’m not the one in need of any convincing. What this science does do is send a message to those who are struggling with negativity, and who have accepted it as their bit in life, that there is a way out. Like most things in life, it’s just a question of believing in yourself. If you’re unsure of your state of mind, Professor Fox even has a simple test for you. It only works if you’re honest, obviously. Check it out.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Jobs, Ideas and Glory

I believe hard work leads to good things. Reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground and in perpetual motion - as opposed to up on the couch all day.

One positive in these austere times is they provide a healthy dose of focus in the outlook of teenagers. Some research suggests that self-centeredness and an interest in fame, celebrity culture and designer brands have gone out of vogue.

The research is a major survey of British teenagers by Britainthinks. It turns out that teens want to find work as opposed to be famous and own designer labels. Two-thirds would rather work than be on benefits, even if it paid less. Work is paramount, interest in affluent lifestyles is low, and anxiety about ongoing austerity is high. And there is not much faith in politicians, which is hardly surprising.

Across the pond in America, more research found that today’s high-schoolers are more community-minded and less materialistic, though it seems this may just be because of the recession.

‘Hard work’ is the way to go and it marries bountifully with something Saatchi & Saatchi discovered a couple of years ago: the #1 thing that young adult males wanted was to “be creative.” I think this holds true across most young people today. Being a realist and an idealist, hardworking and big dreaming, this is when the heart pounds, sparks fly and the wheels of change turn. We have to get young people into jobs to lift their lives, and into jobs they love because young people’s dreams, hard yacker and cool tools will turn it all around.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Age-o-nomics

We’re all getting older; for some in more noticeable ways than others. The world may appear to belong to the young, but in America, about 10,000 people are turning 65 years old every day. And they’re still investing in business, participating in communities and competing in sport.

Japan has the highest ratio of people over the age of 65 in the world, and it is anticipated that by 2020, sales of adult diapers will supercede that of baby diapers. Now that’s saying something! The challenge for this country is how it’s going to tackle the challenges that come with being an industrialized age – and they’re using technology and creating entirely new markets to do it:
  • Nippon Television Network is offering a service that alerts friends and family when a person doesn't change their television channels for a certain period.
  • Lonely elderly can pledge love for the remainder of their lives through the growing number of matchmaking and marriage consultancies.
  • Karaoke machines play songs that encourage people to move in ways that will ease their stiff hips and shoulders and alleviate back pain.
  • Hotels and department stores are hiring more senior customer services representatives.
  • Food manufacturers are looking to produce softer, ready-to-eat meals for people who may not be able to chew as well as they once did.
Here is an ad that Saatchi & Saatchi China made for our state television client CCTV about being in frequent contact with your parents. Plan a visit now.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

In Praise of Train Travel

I have spent much of this hot sweltering summer traveling throughout Europe trying to rev up our business in what is a somewhat tough economy. I have largely forsaken air travel and have spent many happy hours on trains. The highlight was a wonderful journey from Florence to Interlaken along with a couple of Geneva-Neuchatel, and Neuchatel-Zurich trips. The Swiss railroad system is impeccable. It must have a 101% punctuality record. The trains are clean, comfortable and fully equipped so you can use the time productively. Plus the countryside is inevitably spectacular involving lakes, mountains, and vineyards. Brussels and Paris are best reached nowadays by train since you avoid the traffic horrors en route to the airports and leave and arrive in the center of the cities.

I've been watching Hell on Wheels on my ipad telling the tale of the railroad connecting the east and west coast of the US more than 100 years ago. As Shimon Peres said, "What was once controversial, inevitably becomes popular." How long will it be before the US reinvests in rail travel instead of simply adding more runways and more congestion and more hassle?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Music Makes Us Happy No Matter What

Music is the perfect partner to any occasion; it can connect us deeper with our emotions whether they’re happy or sad. Curiously, while happy songs can keep us feeling upbeat, sad songs are also capable of making us feel more positively.

In a study by the Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute participants were asked to listen two pieces of sad music and one piece of happy music and then choose from 62 emotional words to describe their perception of the music and their emotional state having listened to it.

While the sad music did cause the participants to feel somewhat upset, it was more likely to conjure up romantic and inspired emotions. Participants used words like allured, wistful, nostalgic, and tender to describe their emotional state – and it is these emotions that can help us overcome any sad feelings.

Adding to their findings, one of the researchers described the sadness through art as more pleasant than emotion we experience in our daily lives. “Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion.” All the more reason to revisit some of your old favorite melodies.

Somebody crank up ‘Eleanor Rigby’.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

“A Joyful Celebration With No Agenda”

"A joyful celebration with no agenda other than to flood our streets with art and celebrate the creative talents and legacy of this amazing country." That is the dream of a project set to launch in the UK this August.

Art Everywhere will bring over 15,000 reproductions of British works of art to billboards and poster sites throughout the country. Project organizers have called on the public to select their top 50 from more than 100 works selected by a panel to "ensure there was a balanced range of artists, subjects and periods." The voting period has closed now, and we’ll see come August which works will help turn Britain into the world’s largest art museum.

Possible works include The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover by Peter Blake, ‘For You’ by Tracey Emin, works by David Hockney and Damien Hirst, and a portrait of Elizabeth 1 by Elizabethan painter Nicholas Hillard. With a thousand votes, we’re sure to see John William Waterhouse’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’.

I love this idea as a way to bring art and Britain’s creative history to the public, and making it more accessible to people who might not otherwise be familiar with our great museums.

While voting has closed, there is still a chance to be part of what is an artistic act in itself by making a donation to the Art Everywhere Project. There are even some attractive rewards. Say a billboard sized print of a British masterpiece...