Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bruce Springsteen: The Boss is Back

After a five year absence, the E Street Band is back, and they’re back big! Springsteen’s 15th studio album Magic hits it right out of the park. It combines the best of Born to Run’s youthful vigor, energy and optimism, with the maturity and pain of an aging freedom fighter. 'Radio Nowhere' kicks the album off and will be the tour’s 'Thunder Road' or 'No Surrender'. The big man takes to the stage on 'Livin' in the Future' and the band is in top form throughout. Bruce’s American spirit flies free. Here’s the Boss erasing all the doubts those of us living in or experiencing today’s US. My favorite track is 'Girls in Their Summer Clothes'. It’s a great love song written by someone exactly the same age as me. Someone who is feeling life pretty much the same way as I do as all those girls just “pass me by.”

A rock ‘n roll album for the ages. . . and for the aging (Richard!!)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

With or Without You: 6.6 Billion Reasons to Change

Anyone who reads this blog will know that I believe we all need to help make the world a better place for everyone to live in. That’s probably the reason I noticed a particular phrase in an article I read recently called “A trolley load of food fears”. The topic was our growing anxieties about food and the comment was, “Food won’t cost the Earth or save the planet”. Perfectly true, but this thought sparked a different perspective for me. The fact is that the challenge we face is not saving the planet. The planet will continue existing with or without us. Even without us, it will have a functioning ecosystem, though maybe not one that will support people. The grandeur and complexity of this world we live in can sometimes feel a little chilly, but I believe we need to feel inspired by this beautiful planet to make serious changes in how we live and connect.

I find close parallels between where Sustainability is today and where the Quality movement was 25 years ago. At first, no one but dreamers thought they could afford Quality or that Quality was even necessary. Dr Deming had to develop his ideas in Japan, not his native United States. As the pressure from competition and lack of differentiation increased, people started to make token gestures to Quality. I’m thinking of quality inspections at the end of the process cycle when a product can only be accepted or rejected. Today Quality is embedded everywhere - in innovation, production, distribution and marketing. It is part of the flow of the market.

Toyota shows the next stage of evolution. Just as they led the Quality movement, their relentless spirit is now firing up a quest for Sustainability in leading innovations like hybrid technologies. Within a decade, I believe Sustainability will be embedded in every industry and it will happen by people making choices, not by legislation or regulation. Command and control won’t work for 6.6 billion people.

So let’s not get sidetracked into believing we can ‘save the planet’. What we should be doing is saving ourselves. It’s like that moment of instruction you receive in an airplane before take-off. “If an oxygen mask falls down in front of you, put on your own mask first before attending to others.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

All Blacks Haka - Time for a Change?

I’m taking a break from rugby so this will be my last post on that topic until the raw wounds from the All Blacks' demise in the Rugby World Cup heal. For some time, my friend and New Zealand Edge co-founder, Brian Sweeney, has been advocating a couple of dramatic changes involving the Haka. Brian thinks the All Blacks should do the Haka after a game, and only if they have won. I have the feeling that performing it before the game has become a distraction and might be emotionally de-energizing for the ABs. Going forward, it should be used as a reward to the team rather than an exhortation. The Sevens side, which has had unprecedented success over the last decade, uses the Haka in this way. As a reward and celebration.

Brian goes even one step further. He’d like to see the Haka set aside from every upcoming test and only used if we win the Rugby World Cup in 2011. It would become the ultimate reward for the team. I agree.

What say you?

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Big Chevrolet Kiss Off

I saw this image of people kissing a car a few weeks ago and to be honest, it passed me by. Endurance tests have a flavor of that classic movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and don’t do a lot for me. Now it occurs to me that this competition belongs back in the Attention Economy and needs some discussion. The thing I have always liked most about Lovemarks is that people get it. Professional communicators might get tripped up by the directness of the language, but most people understand that a Lovemark relationship means Loyalty Beyond Reason to something they are passionate about. And so on to this mall competition for Chevrolet. The idea was that the person who could hold the kiss for the longest won the right to buy the car for the equivalent of ten cents. This competition used a powerful symbol of Love: the kiss. What troubles me is that the only emotion possible in this kiss is grim determination. There is no empathy, no mystery and every sense must be shrieking in pain. This is a symbol being used in a way that devalues it. Symbols are always open to this and usually they bounce back. The American flag and the Union Jack, for instance, have been used and abused over the decades but through it all remain proud symbols for their people. The kiss too will surge through as the passionate, loving human expression it is. This competition reinforces to me that in the Attraction Economy you have to go for engagement, not interruption, intimate gestures, not big promises, and connect with people, not manipulate consumers. Good luck to the young woman who lasted more than 24 hours and won the competition, but for Chevrolet it was just a big kiss-off.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Tudors: Epic storytelling

The hottest, raunchiest show on television right now is set hundreds of years ago in England. It’s based on a true story incorporating sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, along with wars, jousting, religion, politics and globalization. I’m talking about "The Tudors". Meet Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Moore; all brought to life brilliantly by a U.S./Canadian production. The mini series is airing on Showtime and I think has just been launched in the U.K. If you recall him from Bend it Like Beckham, Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as the young Henry VIII. We are talking sex symbol of 2007, and that’s not to mention the luscious Anne Boleyn who has just made her appearance. Even though many of you might know how this epic story ends, the secret of the show is all in the devious detail. Sam Neill is absolutely brilliant as Cardinal Wolsey, the scheming power behind the throne. The cinematography is sensational and the pace and drama gripping. I watched four episodes on DVD back to back and spent the rest of the night playing out Tudor war games (with Anne Boleyn thrown in to make things interesting).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fissure Queen

At Saatchi & Saatchi we believe that Nothing is Impossible. This belief springs from the conviction that with focus and passion, commitment and creativity, we can do anything. While Nothing is Impossible is the Saatchi & Saatchi spirit, the idea captures the power of human aspiration in any form. One reason why I have a passion for contemporary art is the sheer pleasure that lies in watching creative people create the impossible. This spirit has been in action during a series of now-famous artist installations at Tate Modern in London. For those of you who haven’t got there yet, imagine a space to humble giants. Vast, cavernous, overwhelming. This is the turbine hall of a power station and the opening space of the Tate Modern experience. While the opportunity to go head-to-head with this space would be daunting to most of us, a number of artists have responded in intriguing and spectacular ways. Olafur Eliasson, for instance, created The Weather Project, a large sun that filled the space with light. People loved it and were even lying down on the floor to stare up at the glowing light. Another artist, a Belgian named Carsten Höller, created Test Site. Here, the Turbine Hall was home to slides in tubes that gave people a thrilling ride from high in the roof right to the ground via some pretty wild curves and twists. The latest installation is Shibboleth by a Columbian, Doris Salcedo. This is possibly one of the most fascinating to date. The hall is completely empty. Indeed it is beyond empty because Salcedo has somehow made a 550 foot crack across the floor of the Turbine Hall. It starts as a hairline fracture at one end and widens to almost ten inches and up to three feet deep as well as zig-zagging off in different directions. This makes for a perfect paradox: an extraordinary spectacle with beautiful intimacy. There’s some excitement as some people try to figure how she did it, of course. The Guardian even got a group of experts together to try and crack the code. To me, the magic is not in any of that. It’s very simple. She has created a mysterious, sensual work that changes the way we think about what that space truly is. Salcedo’s Shibboleth is a living demonstration that the magic of art is to remind us that Nothing is Impossible.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Whack on the Side of the Head

Sometimes the most surprising things can get you thinking. Even the newspaper. I was sent an extraordinary story recently and whether it is true or not is kind of beside my point. It appears that during a speedway race, a Czech rider named Matej Kus fell off his bike and was badly concussed. Nothing surprising there. It was what happened next that was extraordinary. As Kus regained consciousness, it was discovered that he could speak perfect English, something he couldn’t do before the crash. Immediately I was reminded of a great Spike Milligan joke. A patient about to be wheeled into the operating theater asks the surgeon if he will be able to play the piano after his operation. When the surgeon reassured him that of course he would, the patient beamed. “That’s great. I couldn’t before.” Put Kus’s concussion and Spike’s joke together and you get close to the fantastic power that shaking up assumptions can have in getting you to new and unexpected places. It is what Roger von Oech famously described as A Whack on the Side of the Head. Although Mr Kus probably took it a little too literally, in my experience, the best way to have an idea is not to sit down at a meeting and talk endlessly at each other but to take yourself out into the world. A speedway perhaps?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Surfin' USA: Life’s a beach

I’m writing this at 6:30am on the beach at Waikiki. You will remember a few days ago I vented about The Wolf of Wall Street and now feel the need to bring back some harmony into my life. I haven’t been to Hawaii for about a decade, but when the kids were younger, it was a favorite holiday place. Honolulu gets a bad rap for just being a big Disney tourist town, but there’s nothing more glorious than watching the sunrise over Diamond Head. And you can’t beat watching the longboarders roll in at 5:00pm, sitting with a cold Miller High Life at Duke’s Barefoot Beach Bar. There is something deeply attractive about the Polynesian lifestyle and it’s easy to see their influence on New Zealand and on neighboring Samoa and Tonga. Grilled Mahi Mahi for lunch in Maui at one of the Wailea Resorts is enough to purge the taste of Wall Street excess from me. That special feeling of the sand between your toes just before sunset in a beach bar - magic. Perhaps my all time favorite is the bar at La Samanna in St. Martin where cold Heinekens in the barefoot bar are the perfect start to an evening. Nearby in the French restaurants cold white wines and great grilled fish are waiting to be enjoyed.

I was in Hawaii for the Toyota National Dealer Conference and went to Maui for the Lexus National Conference. We celebrated Toyota’s 50th birthday in the U.S. and it’s staggering to see how far this great company has come. 34 years ago they held their first ever U.S. Dealer Meeting in Honolulu with less than a 2% market share. Today Toyota is the biggest selling brand in the U.S. outselling Ford and Chevrolet and Lexus is the number one luxury car. They are now way ahead of BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, etc. It is a tribute to kaizen, continuous improvement and to some great leadership. Toyota believe there is no best, only better. They are also committed to constant innovation on top of their foundation of quality, durability and reliability. All great stuff to muse about as the sand slips between your toes and a beer sits cool in your hand.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Wolf of Wall Street

I’ve never been enamored by greed. Nor have I ever felt that the role of business was particularly about making money and creating wealth. For me, thanks to my socialist upbringing, it’s always been about trying to create jobs, self esteem, fulfillment, being the best you can and making the world a better place for everyone. Given this, I’ve always had a pretty sour view of merchant bankers, investment bankers, private equity players and stock brokers. As a result I didn’t engage much with the people I met during the Michael Milken/Ivan Boesky driven 80’s. Having said that, I was riveted by Michael Douglas in Wall Street, the Michael Lewis book Liar’s Poker, Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.

Living in Tribeca, which is close to the Financial District in New York, I bump into more than my fair share of cocky, narcissistic masters of the universe, all of whom I give the widest possible berth. Over the past two years they’ve come back with a vengeance and just about the only positive I can see coming out of it is that they are driving the value of my Tribeca apartment up and up.

Because I’ve never really been part of that life, a book that’s just come out in the U.S. was a revelation to me. It’s called The Wolf of Wall Street and is by Jordan Belfort who tells the true story of a 25 year old who turned his brokerage into a multi million dollar machine. In that time he broke every securities law possible, screwed innocent shareholders by the score, was a multi millionaire at 26 and a federal convict at 36. It’s a book that you just can’t put down and is brilliantly written. Talk about tales of excess. It’s certain to be made into a movie and I can’t believe they would go any further than Leonardo DiCaprio to play Belfort, the founder of Stratton Oakmont. This is a book that describes the greed, power and excess of the raging U.S. bull market. It reaffirms everything I’ve always felt about these bloodsucking piranhas.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fridge Dreams: a Magnetic Attraction

What is it about fridge magnets? Is there a fridge door in the world that is blank? I doubt it. The kitchen may be the heart of every home, but the fridge door is an intimate reflection of what’s important to a family. Kids’ drawings, take-out menus, holiday snaps, school reports, shopping lists…this is where it happens. A perfect example is my sister-in-law, Julie Munton, who has a fridge magnet from every place she's been. Let’s take this frozen passion a step further and check out a site that opens the fridge door wide and explores what’s inside. And yes, it’s called fridgewatcher. While this site is still in its early stages (there aren’t many fridges included and most of them are from the Netherlands), I put it out as a good example of how smart people in business can use the Web in a far more exciting way than Googling demographics. Anyone with true empathy can learn a lot from the contents of these fridges. And, having learnt, they can start to create experiences that attract people from the fridge out. Cool products that not only taste good, but also give a fridge some class.

Don’t miss the chocolate obsessed fridge from Alexandra, New Zealand. Here’s some real wisdom to think about:

“I do have pictures of the chocolate stage [of my fridge]! In the pictures you see my daughters reaction the first time she saw that particular phase of my fridges life :-) One good thing about growing up and getting a job is that you find you have the money to do whacky things that you would have wanted to do as a child. Unfortunately we tend to get caught up in adult problems and forget the dreams and idea’s we used to have in our younger years. So, every now and again I like to do something different to remind myself that there’s more to life… and also just because I can :-)”

My response? Let’s all aspire to fridges that nourish our dreams!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Panini Project: One step at a time

Paninis to me are one of two things: grilled sandwiches or collectible stickers. So when I heard about the Panini Project I had to stop and think. To my delight, I found out that this project is a very cool way to inspire kids in the UK to support and connect with kids in the Third World who love to play football. Looking at the website took me back twenty years to when my eldest son, Ben, was soccer mad and collected the entire collection of Panini’s World Cup stickers! I also remember on a flight down to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1988 when Ben successfully answered every football question my good mate Joe McCollum could throw at him. Joe finally threw in the towel when, in frustration, he asked Ben what Gary Lineker’s mum did for a living. Ben didn’t miss a beat and told him – she was a seamstress!

Getting back to the Panini Project, its goal is simple:

  • Collect a full set of (home) football shirts from every Premiership team. That’s a matter of getting 352 football players to pledge a shirt.
  • Donate the shirts to youth football teams, schools or football programmes in Third World countries.
Ideas like this always have, what I call, inspirers. The people who can lift performance to a new level, and bring passion and spirit along with their ideas. The inspirer of the Panini Project is Kristian Still, course leader for the BTEC National in Sport at Taunton’s College. This project gives Kristian’s students a mighty challenge: “22 teams, 16 shirts, 352 ecstatic footballers”. This is a challenge they can only meet with creativity and determination and you can track their progress on the website. Manchester City certainly needs a boost! In support of his students, Kristian has put together technology (a Wiki) and the belief that we can make the world better one person at a time.

Wouldn’t a global network of Panini Projects bringing in other codes be fantastic?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lee Hazlewood: These Boots Were Made For Walking

I bought a bizarre CD 6 months ago called Cake or Death. It was by a guy I hadn’t heard of for 30 years, Lee Hazlewood. This was the guy who wrote 'Jackson', 'These Boots were Made for Walking', 'Some Velvet Morning' and 'Sugar Town', an outrageously innocent sounding song about dropping acid. Cake or Death is an eccentric album, which is perfect listening when chilling out on a late night plane or when you are in the bath after 24 hours of non-stop, domestic/European hassle. Lee Hazlewood died last month from cancer, age 78, I think. Hazlewood was an outlaw and a recluse. Having started life as a DJ, he went on to become a producer and gave, Wall of Sound legend Phil Spector, his start. He discovered Gram Parsons, who met an early end, and recorded an album with Ann Margaret, someone I had a crush on when I was 17 years old. (I still wonder whatever happened to her? She was certainly shaped differently from the girls I knew at the time in Lancaster.)

Hazlewood combined sentiment and humor in a way few writers have ever done. Then he dropped out to hide away in Sweden. I think he ended up in Texas or Las Vegas or somewhere like that. I know I saw a photograph of him on his 78th birthday in a t-shirt announcing “I’m not dead yet”. He and Nancy Sinatra performed 'Jackson' one last time and the curtain came down. Lee Hazlewood died on August 4. A great original.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Who Says 'Never Work with Animals or Children'

People love animals. The estimated $40.8 billion that will be spent over 2007 on pets in the US shows how much. But there’s more, much more. The brilliantly named Dr Joshua New of Yale University has pushed beyond dollars to tell us some important things animals reveal about human beings and how we think and feel. Dr New was in fact researching what people pay most attention to. He showed people pairs of photographs and they had to work out what had changed between them (more about what he did is in The Economist). While people noticed things that could move (like people and animals) more than things that couldn’t (like plants and tools), the good doctor was more taken by the intensity of our responses to animals. People noticed in his photo pairs that an elephant, previously in the background, had moved position, but failed to notice that a large red van that had been in the foreground had vanished altogether! What did the doctor conclude? That we find it easier to detect changes connected with animals, which we expect to move, more than with vehicles even though we also expect motion. Blame evolution. Our brains are still tuned to the signals, dangers and pleasures that kept us alive in our earliest days. To anyone in advertising, the knowledge that animals make powerful emotional connections with people is a no-brainer. In New Zealand, Saatchi & Saatchi worked miracles with this connection in award winning commercials for Telecom New Zealand. Animals as emotional icons. People got it instantly and loved it. So thanks Doc, but not much new there.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The New Creatures of Middle Earth

Peter Jackson runs his amazing movie empire from a small suburb in Wellington, New Zealand, giving a whole new meaning to the idea of Act Local, Go Global. As a New Zealander and sisomo evangelist, I always keep an eye out for any Jackson news, particularly inspired by his masterwork (so far), The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I remember almost 10 years ago sitting in the Los Angeles offices of New Line Cinemas with Peter Jackson and the Mayor of Wellington, trying to convince them to get behind a Lord of the Rings Wellington premier. How time flies. To me, The Lord of the Rings has all the Lovemark qualities starting with a great story and going through each element of Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy. What a delight then to see that The Lord of the Rings is sparking new life beyond the movie and the books in an amazing online game. Fans will not let this great myth fade. Between 800,000 and 1 million players have already created around 4 million unique characters in just five months. This is consumer generated media on steroids. I guess it’s not surprising when a Lovemark like The Lord of the Rings creates a sensation online, but what is surprising is that this extraordinary game world has been created by a small developer called Turbine with a staff of just 200. Turbine is a perfect example of a company that totally gets today’s working environment. How have they done it? They:

  • Connected with a Lovemark.
  • Put the fans first.
  • Kept small, fast and nimble.
  • Partnered so they didn’t even attempt to be expert at everything.
Jeff Anderson, the CE of Turbine, told BusinessWeek that he is in the "community business" and plans for these communities to reach round the globe. Watch for Chinese and South Korean versions coming soon. Anyone who has a shred of doubt left about the power of the online community should check out The Lord of the Rings online. You can download a free 7-day trial version of Shadows of Angmar here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Getting back on the bike: The Return of Back Pedal Brakes

I heard about a great piece of design a couple of weeks ago. It’s a new bike that has just been launched in the US. In fact, it’s an anti-bike. The Trek Lime has 3 basic gears, and the braking is via that old chestnut - pedal backwards. Over the past 5 years, bikes have become totally driven by technology and apparently, only aimed at slim, lean, ultra fit athletes. Lance Armstrong has a lot to answer for. Whatever happened to the onion seller’s bike in France, or the postman’s bike in rural England? Well Ideo, of all places, has helped design a bike that is actually designed for people who don’t ride them, i.e. practically everyone. I’ve ridden a bike for years but have stopped lately because it has become hardcore, intimidating and technically beyond my reach. 30-speed titanium bikes with bicycle seats that slipped into places they had no right to go were not for me. Now we’ve got a bike that looks like a bike. For a start, it has automatic shifting technology which triggers in when you hit 7 miles per hour and at 11 miles per hour alongside the back pedaling coasting brakes. There is even a chain guard to keep oil and grease off your pants and legs. And listen to this, the bike shop staff were sent to Sephora to see how customers were treated and how to build empathy. To cap it off, prices were halved to around $500. I’ve ordered a $580 Trek Lime for delivery over the next 3 months, and guess what? The well rounded seat is like a briefcase; plenty of room for your keys and your [iPod]. What’s not to like.

And speaking of liking, as you know, a favorite journo of mine is Linda Tischler who works for Fast Company. She just interviewed Philippe Starck on his formula for creativity. "Every morning take Royal Jelly and Omega 3 oil, eat oysters and have a good sex life. Don't care about anything, and never listen to anybody. Be free." You heard it here first.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Passion for your Nation

Well, the last few days have been pretty average. The All Blacks were beaten by France at the Rugby World Cup in Cardiff on Saturday. I was there with a bunch of friends from the UK and New Zealand and it’s been a while since I felt so bad. Nothing is as personal and emotional in life as passion for your nation in your favorite sport. At least, not if you’re a rugby nut like me. It was the most one-sided game in history. The All Blacks had 72% of territory, 62% of possession, won 153 rucks vs. France’s 34, and we only had to make 47 tackles to France’s 197. The only lopsided statistics were the penalty count, which was 9-2 to France and the score which was 20-18 to France. Bugger!

In New Zealand, ads against family violence went on air immediately after the game. It’s a sad indictment of society, but there has been a correlation in the past with increased family violence after an All Black loss. This is totally out of order. Instead of family violence, I think everyone would be better off taking a rugby ball out onto the park and kicking it around. No one likes losing but there is never an excuse for resorting to violence. What’s needed is to turn all that anger into passion for the future, to learning, and then into sheer naked optimism. As Tom Peters said fail fast, learn fast and fix fast.

I read some advice from Philip Culbertson, a theology lecturer at Auckland University, who said the best way to get over this kind of defeat was 1) to be kind to each other, 2)spend time with your kids, 3) blame the ref, 4) kick a ball around the park, and 5) watch the Final.

Pretty good advice. And yes, I certainly blamed the ref!

The Human Touch

There is a great moment in Hari Kunzru’s novel Transmission when a young Indian woman working in a Bombay call centre, finds she has developed an Australian accent as the result of mimicking the customers she speaks with everyday. (Note that Kunzru has strong New Zealand connections, visits often and should be lobbied to replace the Australian scenario with a Kiwi one in the next edition.) We have all been on the receiving end of call center ‘service’ and experienced that mix of curiosity, astonishment and frustration when trying to sort out local problems with someone seated halfway around the world. That is nothing compared to the impotent rage experienced when you are cued to press one button after another as you struggle to get some task done. And we’re not talking a fun treasure hunt here either; we’re talking about completing dull everyday transactions as fast as possible. When I mentioned I was posting on this issue, a friend told me they once had to press eight different numbers to get through to a real person on a local phone number. OK then, for all of you determined to talk with a real person and fed up with the number crunching, help is at hand. Consumer advocate Paul English has started the Gethuman movement. On the Gethuman site you can see the keys you need to press to get to a human voice on many business and government phone numbers. Amazingly there is a lot of variation.

  • GE Finance CareCredit - dial the number then press # at each prompt ignoring the messages.
  • RiteAid - Don’t press or say anything.
  • MetLife Bank - Press 000 rapidly and repeatedly, ignoring messages.

A few companies have the wonderful: “Direct to human” annotation. Bouquets for Southwest Airlines, the FBI, White House, Barnes & Noble and Walt Disney World, among a select few. You still have to punch keys though you don’t have to do it on command from an electronic voice. Currently the Gethuman site is American-centric, but there’s nothing to stop localized versions.

Humans unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Taking Elmore Leonard to the Movies

A while ago I wrote about growing up reading Elmore Leonard and his great Western stories. One of the best was 3:10 to Yuma, which has recently hit the headlines following an early September release as a movie starring Christian Bale, Russell Crowe and Peter Fonda. Leonard wrote the story in 1953 and got paid $90.00 for it. Two cents a word, in Dime Western Magazine. It was first made into a movie in 1957 with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, but I’m told the new version is even better. I’ve tried to see it a couple of times but have missed out because of other priorities. Still, it’s top of my “must see” list. Russell Crowe is a great guy for relaunching genres. Look what he did for swords and sandals with Gladiator, for the ocean in Master and Commander, and it sounds like he’s doing it again, this time for the Western. The original version was beautifully shot but the new version is much deeper and broader. Like most great Westerns, 3:10 to Yuma is a classic morality tale with pioneers faced with high integrity decisions that set the pattern for others to follow. The West was a dangerous place where people were constantly being tested (not too different from today’s marketing arena). If you have the chance, go see it and let me know what you think. Russell Crowe is a favorite and Peter Fonda usually brings a vibrant kind of eccentricity to the screen.

I’m writing this from Dallas, Texas, and have been trying to think of other Elmore Leonard stories that have been turned into movies. Hombre with Paul Newman was outstanding, as was Joe Kidd with Clint Eastwood wonderfully playing Clint Eastwood as only he can do. I think the one I enjoyed most is Valdez Is Coming, which could be Burt Lancaster’s finest hour. Anyway, I’m sitting here in the Wild West room at the ZaZa and things couldn’t be more perfect.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Go with your gut

Businesses can too often be held back by their absolute determination to be rational about decision making. How do I know this? Simple, my gut tells me. Now, I’m not suggesting that CEOs hold weekly séances or use divining rods to search out opportunities, but I am suggesting that intuition, gut feeling and instinct need to be taken far more seriously than they are. I am astonished that some people (and they are not all economists) still believe that consumer decisions are rational and not emotional. Yet here are two more compelling reasons why this is just not so; one from an English philosopher and the other from a German psychologist.

The English philosopher is John Gray, and in his book Straw Dogs he calculates that “we process perhaps 14 million bits of information per second” and that “the bandwidth of consciousness is around 18 bits”. 14 billion v 18. It’s extraordinary that we pick up anything from anyone. It’s certainly no wonder the tedious listings of benefits on packaging make so few connections with shoppers. Instead of lecturing them, how about attracting them with something they can get fast?
The German psychologist is Gerd Gigerenzer. Malcolm Gladwell used Gigerenzer’s research in Blink to show how snap decisions often get better results than careful analysis. In his own book, Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, Dr Gigerenzer shows how we do it. Our unconscious sifts through a huge range of rules-of-thumb we have already processed and, virtually instantaneously, makes a decision based on this past wisdom. The best part is that these intuitive feelings lead to high quality decisions, or decisions we are happy about later. Gut Feelings demonstrates that emotion, intuition, speed and the right answer are not as far apart as many people think.

Friday, October 5, 2007

How to avoid a heart attack

The Virginia Tourism Board in the United States has a great idea for an advertising campaign. 'Live Passionately' is the centerpiece of their Virginia is for Lovers theme. Now this is an idea with huge Lovemarks potential; emotional, inspiring and intimate. For the icon of their campaign, they used people making a heart shape with their two-hands. That’s sensuality into the mix. Perfect. Just one thing went wrong. It turns out the hand-heart symbol was used by a local gang who had the sale of crack cocaine as the center of its business model. The icon was hastily dropped.

What went wrong here? As usual, hindsight makes it simple. They didn’t dig into the local deep enough and missed an element which was (and fair enough too) foreign to them personally, but influential on local business people and groups whose support they needed. We sometimes forget that influence can be negative as well as positive. This is the kind of mistake some brands make when they move into new markets foreign to them. In these circumstances, some mistranslations (although the suggestion that Coca-Cola phonetically translated its name in China in the 1920s as “bite the wax tadpole” is sadly an urban legend) and social and cultural missteps are not surprising. What the Virginia experience brings home to me are two important lessons. First, you can get it just as wrong in your own backyard as in distant markets, and second, the meaning of an icon can be so distorted that you don’t have to have anything to do with it. Icons are living ideas we need to nurture and protect and can never take for granted.

Corporate America and the Warrior Spirit

15 years ago, I became great friends with Michael Jones and Inga Tuigamala who introduced me to that special culture of the Pacific Islands. I was a guest at Michael’s wedding, a beautiful combination of Christian celebration, traditional songs and happiness. And thanks to Inga, I was invited on a 3-day tour of Tonga and the Islands. During this World Cup, both Tonga and Samoa have competed with the big boys, South Africa and England, and have excited audiences all over the world. They have integrated into the French communities and are particularly popular with the local kids. Tonga’s performance against South Africa was fantastic, and in hindsight, the US performance against the Tongans also looked impressive. Michael Jones and Samoa were disappointed that they couldn’t put a full 18 minutes together against England and South Africa, but they held their heads high. In the two-rooms before the England game, four words were scrawled on a flip chart – Pace, Power, Precision, Passion.

This is pretty good advice for running a business in today’s fast-paced environment. Fittingly, surrounding these words someone had scrawled “Warrior Spirit”.

I like that a lot. Successful companies are built on passion and harmony. They are created out of Pace (aka Velocity) or Speed in corporate speak, Power (aka sustainable competitive advantage) and Precision (aka execution, and Passion). Warrior Spirit is the critical glue that drives companies to success. At Saatchi & Saatchi, our spirit is “Nothing is Impossible”. For P&G it’s “The Relentless Quest to be the Best”. At Toyota, it’s continuous improvement in the form of “Kaizen”. Great companies all share a unique spirit that has been designed to unleash and inspire their people to be the best that they can be. The Tongans and the Samoans have demonstrated just how far a great Warrior Spirit can take you.

I met a great warrior and advertising giant in Pat Fallon last week in Minneapolis. Talking with Pat, I could see how that Warrior Spirit had been translated into Fallon Minneapolis and London. Their belief, “We are Fallon”, captures this thought brilliantly.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Getting to know John Rain

I’ve written before about one of my fictional heroes, Jack Reacher. Whilst he reigns supreme, I have come to know another interesting character over the last two years. Barry Eisler has invented the most charismatic, interesting assassin since Ian Fleming gave us James Bond. John Rain is a Japanese-American struggling with his own humanity and his contradictory persona of an iceman. I have followed John Rain through six books now, starting with Rain Fall and going on to a book I finished yesterday, Requiem for an Assassin. Rain's complex character builds through the series, and Eisler takes us on journeys through, what has become for me, a typical itinerary: Singapore, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco. Eisler himself has a very interesting background. He worked for the CIA and lived in Japan, where he earned a black belt in Judo. I understand the books have just been optioned for film by Barry Osborne, who worked with Peter Jackson on Lord of the Rings. John Rain is a fascinating amalgam of hot and cold, Asian and Caucasian, man and assassin. Ideal airplane fodder.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Attraction Economy revs up

The Attraction Economy is really starting to take off, accelerated by development online. As people flex their new media muscle, more and more material made by them for their friends, their families and for anyone who just stops by, is becoming available. This cacophony of new and unexpected voices has elicited the squeals of academics and old world commentators ranting against what they label amateurism, shoddiness, tastelessness and stupidity. Well suck it up guys (and most of them are male!), because this rambunctious child of the Attraction Economy is not going to grow up any time soon. Besides, I always thought that maturity was over-rated. The principle is simple and unchanging. Content rules, and the people who can create the best content (that is content that attracts other people) will win. People like blogs because they are fast, informal, responsive, opinionated and, whatever the detractors say, often written by extremely knowledgeable people (OK, I guess I would say that, but you know what I mean). If the uncoordinated energy of the Web results in the death of professional reporting and journalism as we know it, then professional reporting can’t have been very good in the first place. It’s the same with YouTube. Much of the sisomo there shows super smart people working at their peak. If there also seems to be a lot of trash, try reading every page of your morning newspaper sometime or surfing right through every cable channel!

As we say in Lancaster, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, and in this case the proof is in the numbers. Having said that, I had a great black pudding and haggis breakfast (yes, that's right - breakfast, you faint-hearts) at the Caledonia in Edinburgh the other week. As far as attraction is concerned, the Online Publishers Association has nailed the shift we have been waiting for. Today people are spending almost half of their time online looking at content whereas just four years ago communications took up most of the their time. We’re talking a 37 percent increase in content time. Will this increase bring down the movie industry, as some suggest? Not if the movie industry makes great films that attract audiences, and certainly not if the movie industry starts taking the Web more seriously. I think we can do better now than just putting up all the trailers. People always see innovations like YouTube, Facebook and Second Life as the end of the world as we know it. What they really represent is the beginning of an and/and world where we the people get the best of everything. Nothing wrong with that.

My Top Ten Magazines

I spend a lot of time on planes. This week I’m flying London-Dallas, Dallas-Honolulu, Honolulu-Berlin, Berlin-New York in a 7-day period with a stopover at Cardiff for the Rugby World Cup Quarter Final. All of these flights are more than 10 hours each way. I do three things on planes: work, read magazines and sleep.

The magazine market continues to innovate and excite. I think there is some brilliant writing going on in the US, Europe and New Zealand and I thought I’d share my current top ten with you. Because in the US the value through subscription is immense, I get delivered copies of all these titles, and many more.

So, working from the bottom up...

#10 Fast Company
Alan Webber was the Founding Editor of what I consider to be the most innovative, inspirational and progressive business magazine of its era. Alan was way ahead of his time and turned his reader base into a virtual and real community. He was also the mentor of Lovemarks, and for that alone, I owe him. Alan is now in Santa Fe agitating, thinking and innovating. Over the last few years Fast Company has been through a couple of tough patches, but it’s back now. September with Adam Werbach, a great guy with a great business idea on sustainability, is on the cover and was terrific. The October 'Masters of Design' issue was probably hitting a whole new market thanks to the very smart cover choice of heartthrob Yves Behar. Linda Tischler, a senior writer, has been with Fast Company for a while now and represents everything best about them. Intuitive, intelligent, inspirational and positive. She’s a very welcome rarity in today’s journalism.

#9 Paper
I live in Tribeca and have done so for the last 10 years. Our house magazine is Paper. Edited, or rather curated, by Kim Hastreiter and David Hershkovits, Paper is a must for any downtown New York dweller. David interviewed me for the magazine a couple of years back and I was blown away by his idealism, conviction and out of the box way of viewing the world. My friend, Bridget DeSocio, was creative director there for a while, and the magazine has become a movement, thanks to Kim and David being at the leading edge of fashion, music, cool and hip.

#8 Metro
Whilst we are all global citizens, I guess we define ourselves by the local. For any Aucklander, Metro magazine is a monthly must. And I know for a fact it gets sent to every Aucklander living outside New Zealand too. It’s controversial, provocative and not afraid of the in-depth interview. This month’s effort with my good friend and old business partner, Simon Gault, is worth the cover price alone.

#7 Advertising Age
Under Jonah Bloom, Ad Age has undergone a revolution. Jonah has injected wit, wisdom and foresight into what was previously a dry industry trade magazine. Along with reporting news, Ad Age has taken a provocative view to become much more of a shaping influence. While Campaign in the UK can bring SoHo to a stop when published, and Adweek does a good job with great writing from Andy McMains and Barbara Lippert, Ad Age is still the first industry publication I pick up every week.

#6 Uncut
Despite the dire predictions that the music business is going to hell, Uncut still makes provocative, fun reading. I like Q and I like Rolling Stone (more for its political commentary now than for its music), but Uncut has the best reviews and the best writing, mixing 60’s nostalgia with tomorrow’s trends.

#5 Vanity Fair
An institution in the US under the brilliant Graydon Carter. Some great writers appear here and there’s always an eclectic mix of 2 or 3 must read articles. OK, the anti-Republican rants are somewhat over the top, but the breadth and depth of stories covered more than make up for it. A great mix of movies, entertainment, politics and current issues. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s also Dominick Dunne!

#4 New Zealand Rugby World
The best rugby magazine in the world (I guess I would say that, wouldn’t I). I’ve been contributing to this magazine for 5 or 6 years now under a number of illustrious editors such as Bob Howett and Grant Harding. NZRW really manages to mix the local and the global particularly well, while retaining an obvious focus on all things Black. To a Kiwi living most of his life overseas, this is mana from heaven.

#3 Portfolio
The newest business magazine in the US, published by ex-New Yorker honcho David Carey. Portfolio is a monthly and covers in depth the big business stories with real perspective. It does a fantastic job telling readers what things mean for them, what outcomes are likely and what they might want to do about an issue. It has left BusinessWeek and Fortune struggling to define their positions in the weekly business magazine space.

#2 Monocle
I’ve written about Tyler Brûlé’s magazine before. This month’s edition is as eclectic as the past 6. Ranging from Rwanda to Germany with an article on the perfect Saturday night-in, it’s just a unique proposition. Perfect for long plane rides.

#1 FourFourTwo
My all time favorite. A soccer monthly magazine published by a bunch of likely lads in England. This month is my ol’ time favorite, because it covers the return of local club Morecambe as a major power. Well, at least they’ve got into the Football League for the first time in their history. FourFourTwo’s laddish tone is perfect for the sport it covers. It has the best writers (Henry Winter), and covers the full gamut from the good ol’ days, which is great for nostalgia buffs like me, as well as the latest developments in the game. It’s provocative, humorous and irreverent.

So, that’s my top 10. Of course, I also read Sports Illustrated, Wallpaper*, The Wisden Cricketer, Harper’s, V and Men’s Vogue, with an occasional foray into GQ, Esquire, Details, etc. In this ever digitalizing age, it’s great to see there is still a role for great writing, great photography, great art design and great production values. Long may magazine innovation continue.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Secrets Revealed

Watch the video at the top of this post carefully. Can you work how it’s done? I can’t, and apart from some not very helpful suggestions about very small people, I haven’t seen any credible explanations either. I’m happy about that. We all know the disappointment when a trick that captivated us is explained. It’s deflating and often rather embarrassing – how could we not have noticed the huge orange under that small bowl? We like to be fooled because it puts us in an intriguing space where we are entertained and puzzled at the same time.

Secrets Not Revealed: How Magicians Protect Intellectual Property Without Law is an academic paper from Yale Law School, and as I’ve always been a sucker for a good magic act (and even for the smarty pants undercutting of the profession by Penn and Teller) I couldn’t resist a quick scan. While the magic angle pulled me in, I kept on reading because of the connections between how magicians feel about their intellectual property, how they protect it, and Lovemarks.

Jacob Loshin starts with a good question. If magicians have few legal rights to their intellectual property (and they don’t), why does innovation in magic still thrive (and it does)? Theoretically this shouldn’t work at all. If you don’t have legal protection, you don’t have any incentive to come up with new stuff because everyone will simply rip you off. So why doesn’t this theory work in practice with magic? Loshin gives a few reasons but two excited me most.

  • First, magicians have created a very strong community with its own rules, protocols and punishments. They seem to have an unwritten agreement about which tricks can be shared and which should remain secret. They have a self-governing system in which they are all the boss.

  • Second, all great magicians know that how the trick technically works is only half the story. The other half is how the trick is presented. The first part can be pulled apart and analyzed; the second part cannot because it demands personality, artistry and inspiration.
From the very beginning I knew that Lovemarks should never be tied down by legalities or proprietorial regulation. Lovemarks have to have their own magic. My position was always that if we were convinced that people own their Lovemarks, that principle had to guide the evolution of the idea of Lovemark itself. Like the mysteries of magic, Lovemarks have to be self-governing or their communities and their irresistible qualities, like personality and inspiration, will die.

Monday, October 1, 2007

California Dreaming

When you are next in Los Angeles, forget the Mondrian, drive past the Beverly Hills, ignore the Beverly Wilshire and head for a fabulous beach holiday in Santa Monica at Shutters Hotel on the Beach. I’ve been going there for well over a decade. It’s a Hampton Beach resort transported to California. Two great restaurants, One Pico and Coast, serve healthy, clean, fresh California food; fantastic seafood, great fish, with a terrific collection of cold American and French white wines to wash it down. They have Becks, Heineken and Stella cold in the fridge, and have just opened a beach valet service where they provide you with everything you need for fun and games in the Pacific. Shutters also has bikes for rent on one of the most fun bike paths in the world, running along the Pacific coast and through Venice Beach, where you can still see every freak and weirdo from the last four decades. Staying at Shutters you can almost feel the sand between your toes and the place has tremendous service and a great country house feel. My advice is to get one of the rooms in the big house at the back of the hotel overlooking the pool and the beach. You’ll find the big, flat screen LG televisions and great movie selection perfect aids in overcoming jetlag. And remember, you are less than 30 minutes from the airport and about the same in a straight line from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Living well is the best revenge.