Friday, February 29, 2008

Inventing a future for Wii

When I first mentioned Nintendo Wii on this blog last year, a reader noted Wii’s contribution to the world of rehabilitation therapy. The idea has come quite some distance since then. Some wit has even named it Wiihabilitation! The driving force is of course motion. Think of it as a very cool way to put Sight, Sound and Motion together as motivational sisomo. For rehab the motion part comes to the fore by inspiring continuous movement that builds muscle tone and gets nerve endings back in action. Apparently what happens is that patients become so immersed in the game they are playing that much of the pain associated with this sort of rehabilitation effort passes unnoticed. Therapists claim even more. Wii can draw people into a form of flow where the body and the mind work in perfect harmony. What an extraordinary state for people to enter who are usually seen as beset by ‘problems’ and ‘limitations.’ And imagine the possibilities of Wii Fit for the rest of us! These exciting uses of Wii are great examples of how smart people can take new technology off into unexpected directions. As cognitive technology guru Donald Norman says, “Even when technology is predicted accurately, usage never is.” That’s why the telephone was transformed from a device to broadcast messages from one person to many into the social networking tool of the 20th century and the entertainment and information hotspot of the 21st.. What can we expect of Wii? Certainly more than we can imagine.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Road Works

Where do unsold CDs go to die? Apparently some of them are crushed and converted into roading material in China. Anyone who saw Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary Manufactured Landscapes about the photographer Edward Burtynsky, will have seen tottering CD mountains ready for compacting. According to EMI, a load of Robbie William’s CD, Rudebox, will soon be on its way to China to live again as pavement. Think of it as the opposite to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. It's the walk no self-respecting musician wants to be part of. Instead of the streets of China being paved with gold, they are lined with the CDs that never made it anywhere near Gold, let alone Platinum. So there will be no Stones Street, Boss Boulevard or Dylan Drive for them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The write stuff

In our and/and world, definitions of all sorts are becoming blurred and no more so than the roles of writer and artist, filmmaker and ideas person. To me many people in advertising are stuck in the past, worrying about their ideas being taken seriously as creative contributions. I’ve heard frustrated advertising creatives and writers argue that what they do is just as smart, just as thoughtful, just as skilful and just as inspired as what artists do. My response? Get a grip! The visual arts have stopped policing the borders with commerce; the movie industry embraces ideas and talent whatever they’re labelled; screenwriters have stared down the mighty TV and movie industries; and the cult of the online amateur only shows that great stories well told are precious. Rock on writers and do your thing.

Ben Myers puts in an admiring word for the skill of copywriting in The Guardian. As Myers says, “Unless you’re John Grisham or JK Rowling, there’s little to be made from writing fiction. Journalism brings in an average part-time income and poetry pays – almost inevitably – nothing.” Fortunately, Myers went beyond the obvious and tested his corporate copywriting skills. Guess what? Not as easy as he had anticipated. “Coming up with a 10 word slogan to lure customers to spend is little different to writing a short poem about love. Both require the writer to be deft and convincing, to communicate as economically as possible.” Even better, he lists some well known writers who have done time as copywriters for a little inspiration. It’s an impressive line-up. Salman Rushdie, Fay Weldon (who was a player in the famous line “Go to work on an egg”), Don DeLillo, William Burroughs, Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy L Sayers.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

12 Immutable Laws of Air Travel in 2008

Recently, I spent 20 hours getting from Austin to London. It was thanks to tornadoes in Dallas, a detour to Detroit, a spare part going missing and a diversion to Houston. As you can imagine, I had time on my hands. As a result, here are some immutable laws of travel in today’s overcrowded skies.

1. The less time you have, the longer it’ll take.
2. The more important your objective at your destination, the more tension and frustration you’ll face en route.
3. Being in a hurry guarantees you will land at the airport 10 minutes after all the passengers disembarking the three jumbos from Nigeria, Korea and Bangladesh form queues at your immigration counter.
4. Whoever said the transit the time at LHR, LAX and JFK is 45 minutes has a grim sense of humor. It’s 3 hours.
5. If you’re running late for a connection, it will depart as scheduled for the first and only time that month.
6. None of the food on board is good for you.
7. Any wine tastes average at 30,000 feet.
8. Apart from the horizontal beds on Air New Zealand, Virgin and British Airways, not all airline beds are equal. You can prove this by trying the angled ones on Delta, Continental and American. 9. If for some strange reason your flight lands on time, there will be no parking gate for the plane and you will be bussed to the terminal 20 minutes late.
10. Any spare part required to fix a mechanical problem on your aircraft is stored at an airport no less than 2 hours flight time away.
11. The most talkative, most boring idiot in the world is in the seat next to you.
12. Take the train!

P.S. Always be nice to airline staff, they hate it as much as you do.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fads into Lovemarks

First, a quick Lovemarks primer. The Love/Respect Axis has four quadrants: Fads, Commodities, Brands and Lovemarks. In the excitement of transforming brands into Lovemarks and lifting commodities into the brand sector, we sometimes lose sight of the creative energy of Fads. Fads sit in the High Love and Low Respect quadrant. It’s where we find the here-today-gone-tomorrow passions that sweep through the markets and our lives.

Why today’s lesson? Because one of the princes of the Fad kingdom died recently at the age of 82. Richard Knerr founded the company Wham-O (how 1940s American is that?) with his colleague Arthur Melin, and together they invented some of the greatest fads the world has known, and even a few Lovemarks. I’m talking about the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee, the SuperBall.

Wham-O sold over 40 million Hula Hoops in the first year after launch in 1958. Two years later it had made 100 million sales! I remember as a kid trying to use rubber car tires - not quite the same effect and that black ring round the stomach took weeks to go away! In the end, the Hula Hoop Fad turned out to be just that. Left with a Hula Hoop mountain in their warehouse, Wham-O found their profits eaten up by unsold merchandise. Their mistake? They forgot that it is moms, dads and kids who decide when a Fad has fizzled and when it is ready to become a Lovemark.

With the Frisbee, Knerr and Melin became more involved in the customer experience and this helped transform the flying disk into the Lovemark it has become today. Other Wham-O fads did not make the leap. Think mail order mink coats, DIY bomb shelters and instant fish. Then there’s the Slip ‘N Slide water slide, the SuperBall and cans squirting Silly String. They were all loved for a while but never won the Respect that would make them be embraced generation after generation. The skateboard, by contrast, has achieved this remarkable feat. Will PlayStation, Wii or Xbox make it?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Futureme: A Conversation in the Future

Any idea that connects with the future grabs my attention. It’s there in the aspirational urgency of Saatchi & Saatchi’s belief that 'Nothing is Impossible', as well as in the famous statement by Alan Kay, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”.

With a brand new grandchild, I guess I am particularly focused on the future. I often find myself thinking about the world Stella will step into. I intend to post some thoughts on what I call 'Stella’s Future' over the year. I'll be starting next week with some Trend Dreams. To give you a taste, here’s a site that draws together the Past, Present and Future that I talk about in Lovemarks in a very direct and personal way. FutureMe allows you to write an email to yourself in...the future. That’s it. You write your email, choose a date in the future for delivery and then send it. Later, on the date you selected, your FutureMe will receive the email. If you want to see what people write you can check out examples on the site. This simple idea has kept tugging at me. It draws on the fundamental human desire to connect with the mystery of what is to come and to secure some instant of attention in the future for the passions and aspirations of today. There’s another practical reason it appeals. Focus. The discipline of writing to your future self is the perfect way to crystallize your ideas and, even better, when you read these ideas in a couple of months or years, to assess how your thinking has changed, whether goals that were important at the time were achieved and what’s next. Give it a go.

Bob Field: Doing it the Toyota Way

Last Saturday was a very special night. The New Zealand Toyota Dealers were all assembled in Auckland to celebrate 20 consecutive years of market leadership. It was also to mark the retirement of legendary Toyota New Zealand CEO, Bob Field.

The farewell dinner was held in Auckland’s historic Civic Theater, a beautiful art deco building in the classic tradition. The dealers were all assembled in the auditorium and Bob was on stage about to make his farewell speech to mark his retirement. Everything was going to plan when Bob’s sound went off and the lights went out. Having been in a similar position a few times, I can imagine how he felt. A couple of spotlights sparked up slowly on stage and Bob looked around to see New Zealand’s Bob Parker ready with a This is Your Life presentation.

For the next hour and half, Bob was regaled with tales from friends, partners and family. I was “the surprise guest” from New York and attended courtesy of a satellite hookup to my New York office - complete with satellite delays, technical interference, etc. At which point I threw up my hands and said that since at Saatchi we believe that 'Nothing is Impossible' and at Toyota we believe in 'Moving Forward', something had to be done. To Bob’s and the audience’s astonishment, I stormed out of my office in New York and, of course, entered onto the stage at the Civic Theater. Rowena was in L.A. for the Grammy’s with Ben, Dan and Rebecca so my date for the evening was my mother-in-law, Rita. She had a ball and, of course, Toyota being one big family, she was made to feel completely at home. Bob’s grandson and family all flew up from the South Island. I can tell you a great time was had by all. Alistair Davis, the new CEO, spoke about having worked for Bob for more than a decade and finally having got one over him. Gary McIver and the marketing team pulled it all together with guests that included Sir Ron Trotter, Scotty of the famous Crumpy and Scotty commercials and America’s Cup hero, Grant Dalton.

Bob has been an awesome leader and has been responsible for making Toyota the most loved company in New Zealand. That was no easy task with Toyota being Japanese to its core. The kicker is that Bob is a Kiwi to the core and it was him, of all executives around the world, who embraced our 1997 idea of 'Toyota Every Day' and 'Everyday People'. In fact, 10 years on, New Zealand is still running the 'Everyday People' campaign and still making fantastic local commercials like Bugger and Bulls. Bob has moved mountains to make Toyota #1 in New Zealand for every year of the last 20 (that’s what I call Sustainable Peak Performance). He has elevated New Zealand in the Toyota Worldwide hierarchy to a position way above its weight. Bob is also one of the most inspirational leaders our country has known and it was wonderful to be able to share such a great occasion with his friends, colleagues, dealers and family.

Although Bob will retire from the CEO role he will continue to provide counsel, guidance and perspective as Chairman of Toyota New Zealand. I also know he has briefed Alistair for another 30 years of market leadership. I also know Bob’s anxious to come back to the next shindig in 30 years time when he’s 90 to celebrate 50 years market leadership. I wouldn’t expect less - that’s the Toyota Way.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guitar Hero

If you want to see sisomo in action in its purest form of sight, sound and motion on screen, take a look at the video game Guitar Hero. But first a question. Why are we still calling these things video games? Seems to me that none of them use video – and even the idea of “video” has that decrepit smell of “radio with pictures”. I know there’s always an and/and phase when technologies shift, and we use automobiles and carts, sailing ships and steamers, GPS and maps, but surely it’s now time for video to push off and give way to a more useful idea like sisomo. Now that’s clear, let’s get back to being Guitar Heroes.

Guitar Hero was invented by Harmonix Music Systems (you guys could get a new name too) and published by RedOctane (your name is great) for PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii. The idea of the game – like all great ideas – is simple but not easy: use a virtual guitar and follow the music. Points are given for how accurately you play. If that was all Guitar Hero was, I guess it would have died a few days after release, but enter Career Mode. Now you can perform in different venues choosing your own stage character and earn extra points for great performances. Get the picture? Get the sound? Get the action? Songs you can perform include Hendrix’s mighty 'Bark at the Moon', 'Iron Man' by Black Sabbath and Deep Purple's 'Smoke on the Water'.

To watch an expert Guitar Hero is to see the future of sisomo. An enveloping virtual world, a totally interactive experience and an experience to set the heart on fire. Hold onto your Gibsons. It’s going to be one hell of a ride.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

20 Travel Wishes for 2008

  1. Heathrow terminal 5 opens on time and begins working as a passenger hub rather than a shopping mall.
  2. “Clear” security control opens in every U.S. terminal.
  3. Get rid of the nonsensical liquids ban.
  4. Scrap the even more nonsensical shoe removal procedures. (They’ll try something new you idiots; not something that’s already failed!)
  5. The travel industry embarks on a real Sustainability program, starting with personal changes all employees and passengers can make on their journey.
  6. New York airport authorities enforce a 30% reduction in flights from the Big 3 NY airports.
  7. LAX – JFK opens up to serious, customer-focused airlines. They should check out the current Qantas option (but without having to go on to Sydney).
  8. Movie lovers/TV fans are allowed to take over in-flight video programming, removing the current el cheapo procurement people.
  9. Whole Foods or Tesco’s Fresh open healthy, boutique, food stores in every U.S. domestic hub.
  10. Airline meals are transformed from junk food to healthy.
  11. Alitalia lands a big sack of government funding along with a visionary team to transform it into the ultimate Italian Lovemark experience.
  12. Airport newsagents all over the world, especially the U.S., start to offer current daily papers from all major countries.
  13. Eurostar and other great Eurotrain experiences keep on growing and expanding their routes. For a start, bring on the German Ice Train!
  14. Miami airport starts to work!
  15. Airport shopping focus is switched from global fragrance/booze/tobacco to individualized local markets selling hard-to-find/exclusive local products that actually delight people.
  16. The First Class private studios on Emirates and Singapore Airlines force competitors to upgrade – fast.
  17. Airline uniforms dress down from military to smart casual. Air New Zealand through its Zambesi designs is setting the standard.
  18. Lounges around the world go for tranquility, openness and space. Think Cathay in Hong Kong. And, while they are at it, ban all big-screen TVs that are always playing CNN, too loud, all the time.
  19. Ensure all airport designers study, replicate and incrementally improve the high standard set by Munich.
  20. Make the toilets bigger and more spacious in all new planes. (Ok, ok, maybe this is just a guy thing.)

With thanks to Monocle for the inspiration

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Inspiration from Starbucks

Posting about breakfast sandwiches v. coffee at Starbucks prompted me to re-read the notes I took when I visited them in 2006. Putting these together with recent comments from CEO Howard Schultz, I came away with six ideas for transforming business. And I’m talking businesses of all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to be a multinational to learn from Schultz's wisdom.

1. You have to learn more to earn more. If you want bigger profits, you need new skills. If you keep your people’s skill level at where they are today, you’ll keep doing the same things you do now, tomorrow. New skills bring new ideas and new energy.

2. Surprise and delight with new products. Your clients deserve it. Your customers demand it. So what are you waiting for?

3. Deliver big ideas. At Saatchi & Saatchi, we have plunged into shopper marketing with Saatchi & Saatchi X and it is changing the way we do business and the way we think about world-changing challenges like sustainability. Don’t get slowed down in a mire of incremental change. Run with scissors.

4. Feed your mistakes to the lions. The only delivery that counts is flawless delivery. Anything less puts you in at number two, if you’re lucky. If you have a 100 Day Plan, live it. If you don’t, please don’t tell me you haven’t got a 100 Day Plan.

5. In a Blue Ocean the best sort of ship is Leadership. Put together the most creative people you know and stand back. If they don’t surprise the hell out of you, change them. At Saatchi & Saatchi we have created the best leadership team I have ever worked with - so watch out for fireworks.

6. Don’t pay for stuff you don’t need. If it doesn’t work, get something that does. Be bold, be brave. It's not about confidence, it's about courage. (Thank you, John Parker)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tide's in

I have always been a big fan of the Tide logo so it was a delight to see it the subject of Rob Walker’s column in The New York Times Magazine. Since my early days working with P&G in the Middle East, I knew that with this brightly colored bullseye the company had created an image to last a lifetime and beyond. In Lovemarks: the Future Beyond Brands, I mentioned the jolt I got when I saw Neil Young wearing a t-shirt that had the Tide logo. Suddenly the rules changed. Laundry detergent + rock star = cross generational icon. Tide has done very, very well on the inspiration of this brilliant symbol. In fact, its market share has increased from 31 percent in 1952 to a massive 44 percent today. A true bullseye.

The original logo was designed by Donald Deskey who also designed the Crest packaging. Deskey studied architecture and was behind some grand projects including the fit-out of Radio City Music Hall in 1932 and John D. Rockefeller's Manhattan apartment. Check out some great furniture he designed. Deskey's design for Tide was the first to go national using Day-Glo colors, and apart from some minor modifications in 1996, the logo remains much the same as when he designed it. P&G understands that sometimes in a world of rapid change, the immutable can shine with its own mystique. And, as if proof was needed, Tide’s 'Talking Stain' spot was one of the top ten most popular downloaded ads featured in the last Superbowl (so brilliantly won by the New York Giants).

P&G has also been working to rebuild American communities affected by disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the Southern California wildfires. Get your hands on a Tide t-shirt (just like Neil Young!) and support the Tides of Hope initiative.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Volume: The mega book throws its weight around

Anyone got a small crane I can use to lift my art books up onto the shelf? What is it about art books and size? Forget small is beautiful. The last five years of art publishing looks like a serious competition about who can produce the biggest, heaviest book with the most pages. The first example I recall was SUMO, a monster book of photographs by Helmut Newton. I've checked out its vital statistics: a massive 50 x 70 cm (20 x 27.5 inches) and 464 pages weighing in at 30kg (66lbs). If you're worried about how to lift it, don't. It comes with its own collapsible table. I mean that in the portable sense of the word.

If you think it would be nice to read one of those monster books in bed, the seven volume set of Andy Warhol's Interview magazine is probably for you. It incorporates wheels and a handle so the whole caboodle can move around like airport luggage (it's in my Parkland lounge). Just as well, we're talking about 996 pages and 28kg (57 pounds) of gossip. Another Taschen heavyweight is due to appear this year. Look forward to 606 pages on Jeff Koons and you can even opt for the special edition which includes a sculpture.

The leader in this heavy weight industry is Taschen. Started by Benedikt Taschen, this publishing powerhouse has revolutionized a sleepy art book market. Perversely, given the size of some of their recent publications, the word Taschen means “pocket”! Taschen don’t just understand weight and size, they get that mystery, sensuality and intimacy are all part of the allure of the mega-book trend. People want more than the “e-r” words, bigg-er, heavi-er and long-er. That’s why many of these media monsters feature intimate gestures that put them into Lovemarks territory. A favorite example? The unique addition to each copy of the 544 page, 6kg (13 pounds) Stanley Kubrick Archives: a strip of Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey cut from his personal print. Magic.

More publishers are getting into this heavy weight market, so I'm off to the gym so I can catch up with a bit of art book reading later today.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Smelling the coffee at Starbucks

Great CEOs understand their business and customers so well that even the most subtle changes jump out at them. Sometimes these changes are for the good, and sometimes, like with Starbucks, not so good. That’s why Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz is pulling the plug on the breakfast sandwich. In short, Schultz found that the egg-and-cheese smell interfered with the smell of coffee.

Last year, I wrote about Schultz’s concern at Starbucks’ increasingly efficient, hygienic, flavor-locked packaging. Again, people couldn’t smell the coffee. Now he’s shown that same sense of savvy. When people wonder at the success of Starbucks they need look no further than the CEO. This is a man with a great nose for what makes a Lovemark.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tattoos: More Than Skin Deep

What is it about tattoos? When I was young, having your skin marked with 'Mom' in a heart, a skull and cross bones, or a loved one's name was left to sailors and others tough enough to take the pain and the consequences when they changed girlfriends. Today, tattoos are fashionably mainstream.

In New Zealand, tattooing is even more so. It has profound cultural significance for both Maori and Pacific Islanders and it is not uncommon to see Maori men with full facial tattoos and Maori women with the traditional chin tattoo. This is a sign of a resurgence of cultural pride, but I'm also intrigued by a huge increase in the number of other New Zealanders being tattooed.

Walk along a New Zealand beach in summer - believe me, this is something to do before you die - and the variety and number of tattoos is incredible. Many of them are very elaborate (not just a small red rose or an ironic anchor entwined with rope) and tell stories; stories that have meaning to the people who wear them and are drawn from a world of cultures from Japan to Egypt, from the Celtics to the Chinese. These are literally personal Lovemarks.

The mystery of individual iconography, sensuality of color and line permanently drawn on the body, and intimacy of personal commitment. It is probably no coincidence that in a world obsessed by security, identity and surveillance, so many people are choosing to mark themselves permanently as individuals. Optimists, every one of them, wearing their confidence in the future with pride. Of course they bring to mind their direct opposite which I saw recently. Temporary tattoos. They looked real enough but were simply transfers. The tag line on the packaging? "Almost forever".

Home - Day 3

It was back to School to talk to the 6th formers about Passionate Choices and Personal Purpose, interspersed with a lot of irreverent ads and antidotes. The lads were chirpy, smart and fun. Some great questions backed by very positive attitudes. As a plus, my old English teacher, Peter Sampson, rocked up. It was great to see him in such fine form. In a couple of months, on 16 April, he will be 70. It was Peter who single-handedly introduced a top class drama program into LRGS and he is still involved in the theater and singing. After a good chat with Peter, it was back to the Headmaster’s dining room to host a dinner of 24 local business people and kick around the idea of work/life integration and what that meant for small and big businesses. We talked a lot about Purpose, Flow, Inspiration and a great time was had by all. Five hours later, it was down to the Headmaster - Andrew Jarman, Joe McCollum, Ben and I and a bottle of red.

Back in Grasmere, Joe, Ben and I formally engaged in the age old tradition of wetting the baby’s head. Ben’s been full on for the last eight weeks with Stella and this was the first opportunity to let his hair down, which he did with some style. We called it a night at 4:20am, having drunk the fridge dry of Beck’s and following some strong accompanying vocals from Ben to Thunder Road, Born to Run and No Surrender. Upstairs Stella somehow slept peacefully through it all.

Patrizia has gone back to Rome. Stella, Clarissa and Ben have gone back to London, Joe’s back in Stratford-upon-Avon and I’m in Grasmere on another cloudy, Lakeland day. The dogs howl and the caravans move on.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Home - Day 2

I was still feeling wretched after giving a speech to the State Boarding School Association, so it was back to a bed. Almost immediately, emails began buzzing in from these highly committed head teachers and boarding heads about how they can move boarding from being liked to being loved. They also wanted to know how they can make their schools irresistible. We’re talking about the kind of people I like best - committed, inspirational and trying to make a difference.

Thankfully the body has a bad memory (which I guess explains how mothers manage to have more than one child) and in the morning a whole new day dawned. After a quick workout on the elliptical trainer it was back to school for a session with teachers and pupils on how to incorporate Personal Purpose into a new Life Skill’s Program. This is a great initiative from Lancaster Royal Grammar School, with students and teachers working on content and delivery. At last there is a program that actually equips 6th formers to think for themselves and about themselves, in an open conceptual way, instead of just plodding on with no dream and without a purpose.

The kids were articulate, inspirational, confrontational and fun.

From there I caught up with Bob Skinstad, the ex-Springboks Skipper and a great mate, who had kindly flown up to deliver some coaching to the School’s first 15. He reported that while the team was smaller and less physically conditioned than their South African counterparts, they were much smarter in rugby terms.

After Bob left for a commitment in Leeds, we drove back up to Grasmere where the rain was still pouring down in what locals call typical Lakes weather. We’d just arrived when Magnus Lund turned up, so granddaughter Stella had the honor of meeting two international backrow forwards within an hour. Magnus is a 24-year old who has been playing professional rugby with Sale for seven years and is tired of the routine. He’s a leader in a new generation of lads who have not gone to college or had any other job apart from playing professional rugby. Training five days a week and playing the other two doesn’t do much for the body or soul and Magnus is considering blazing a trail by taking six months off. His idea is to come over to the U.S. to take a mental break, do some coaching, perhaps work with the Eagles and then go back into full-time rugby in 2008. This revolutionary approach is being met with shock and horror by Sale and English Rugby authorities, but I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg and the start of a major trend. Rugby players tend to come from good schools, with a good educational and strong family backgrounds. With this at your back, the single-minded focus of such a physical sport as rugby can grow tiresome. The sort of break Magnus is considering is going to be needed by more and more players as time goes on. I hope that Magnus follows through. Not only for him of course, as USA Rugby would benefit from his expertise, but as a precedent for others.

My evening ended with Stella giving a star performance (excuse the pun) at The Drunken Duck which, as you know, is one of my favorite watering holes in the Lake District. She enjoyed her outing there and was wide awake for the entire evening. Luckily we found a small room with four tables, three of which were inhabited with a combination of expectant first-time moms and experienced grandparents. Pat from North Wales had just finished her dinner and took Stella walkabout while we ate our meal. Handling a newborn obviously is like riding a bike, the benefits of experience are priceless. Once learnt it's never forgotten.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Home - Day One

Recently, I left New York on a 6pm flight to Manchester arriving at 5:40am. No big surprise that there was no one else at the airport. Thankfully I was met by Jan Walker, who runs 'Allinspired'. This is a great service which finds houses and runs them for absent owners. Jan is a one of a kind, dedicated helper with a passion for pleasing people. She found Michaels’ Nook Cottage for me, makes sure it’s stocked with all the right goodies and is cleaned and ready to use every time I, or my friends, rock up. She’s also got all the right contacts for the Lake District in her Rolodex and can get anything made, fixed or designed by the best of the best overnight. This is a woman who makes absentee expatriate living a dream come true.

So I was in a high state of excitement as Ben, Clarissa, her mother Patrizia and, most important of all, eight-week old granddaughter Stella were waiting at the Cottage. It was my first sighting and worth every second of the waiting. She’s everything you could hope for. 4 kilos of joy. Big open blue eyes, beautiful features, a lovely temperament and already showing signs of independence and curiosity.

The day passed with several thousand handlings of Stella and almost as many photographs, all of which were immediately posted on Ringo for all Stella fans to see. Ben had her dressed in a lovely outfit I bought from Agatha Ruiz De La Prada in New York, and this does not go unnoticed, by me anyway.

The dinner that night was at Andy’s crazy Jumble Room where Stella was the star of the show. Making a grand entrance to oohs and aahs, she then slept soundly through the mayhem, getting her first taste of John Prine and Robert Earl Keen. Patrizia, eating her first ever serving of mushy peas, dealt to the experience with great nobility.

If the rest of the day had continued that way I would have put it up there as one of the best in my life. Unfortunately, there was a set of calamities you don’t want to hear about involving me, the bathroom and a world of pain.

By the next morning I was still very fragile. Fortunately, it was only an hour’s drive into Lancaster to give a one-hour opening speech to the State Boarding School Association. This was a big event in my old school’s calendar. They are one of the founder members of the Association and I was being touted as a stimulating start to the two-day conference. It is moments like this when CEOs have to suck it up and be troopers; the show, as the voice in my head repeatedly told me, must go on. This was also Stella’s public debut and her first attendance at one of her grandfather’s speeches. Teach ‘em young is what I say.

In the end I arrived at the conference at 1:55pm with the introductions in full swing. I was able to get through the speech and take few Q&A's. Stella was the ultimate diversionary tactic but at the end of the speech I was wiped out. I was due for a meeting with Bob Skinstad on Esportif’s future but had to postpone that to the following day. All I was fit for was to be poured back into the car and headed back home. A dinner that evening with the State Boarding School had to be cancelled and I clambered back into a bed made up with fresh sheets thanks to Miracle Worker, Jan Walker. Not the best day I’ve spent in Paradise.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Out Of The Mouths Of Children

If you have kids, you’ll know that they seem a lot more responsive to the big issues facing us on this planet than previous generations. Perhaps they feel time is running out, or more likely in my view, they get a lot better quality information in a far more engaging form. Look at some of the movies they watch. I’m thinking of documentaries like March of the Penguins, and so much of TV has animals in peril from a deteriorating environment as a storyline. Try watching a young kid’s TV show and you’ll start to see why they take the environment so seriously. It’s an education. Literally. Now we’re getting a positive cycle at work. As they get to know more and have more confident opinions, kids are becoming an increasing force to be reckoned with in the uptake of environmentally friendly products and brands. This is not twenty-somethings but young kids – kids in the single digits – with strong views they’re prepared to argue about. These kids are influencing their parents and their grandparents.

It’s well known that kids influence family decisions. The Economist calls them Trillion Dollar kids, but the gist is that kids under 14 influenced almost half of American household spending in 2005. That’s around $700 billion. Now imagine all that persuasive energy put behind sustainable enterprises and you’ve got a revolution underway. Next time you go buy a car, don’t be surprised if your youngest pushes for a hybrid Prius. Laurie David, producer of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, gets all this. She has written a beautifully illustrated book The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming with Cambria Gordon for just this group of young influencers and inspirers. The book has been attacked in the same way Gore’s efforts have on the detailed interpretation of data, but kids do need to understand the big issues of the day and global warming is certainly one of them. As for me, I have faith in the young. If we had made such a great job as custodians of the world, why do we need all these commissions and reports and committees now? It’s time to do some listening and you could do a lot worse than listen to a ten year-old.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy Families: Joe McGinniss’ Never Enough

I’m not a big fan of Wall Street and merchant banker excesses. I’ve met a lot of good young men who have been corrupted by the Gordon Gekko myth and the whole notion that greed is good.

About a year or so ago, I read a story in Vanity Fair about the murder of Robert Kissel, a Merrill Lynch and former Goldman Sachs investment banker in Hong Kong. The story was unputdownable. It had a plot impossible to make up. A brutal father, a brutal murder, a brother killed, and right at the heart of the story, a high living, insecure, conniving, driven, expatriate wife, Nancy.

Joe McGinniss has just published a book about the whole mess called Never Enough. Order it now. If you know any merchant bankers, expatriate wives, or people who live in Connecticut or the goldfish bowl that is Hong Kong, you must read this book. It’s a true story of two brothers who wanted to own the world, but instead, both wound up murdered continents apart. For one of them the end came via Nancy, a modern American desperate housewife for whom having it all just wasn’t enough. We’re talking about a modern day morality tale full of dysfunctional new millennium families. The book is written with a newspaper journalist’s rapid fire style and it’s just dying to be a movie for Tarantino to direct and Uma Thurman to star in. And because it’s true, not everything gets tidied up, so there is great after dinner fodder too. Who killed Andrew? And how did Michael Del Priore keep out of it?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Loving Jesse James

Aren’t families grand? As a reader pointed out in response to Danis’s review of the Jesse James film with the really long name, the family of Jesse James have put up their own review of the movie on their website, Stray Leaves. The site is really worth a look. Fuelled by a love of mystery and a passion for the past, it has that wonderful obsessiveness you find on great fan sites. The opening words are, “James Ancestry, like life, is fluid...” and it just keeps getting better...

"Today, the facts we assemble tell a story.
Tomorrow, our story tells a myth.
In time, the myth becomes lore.
Lore becomes the certainly
by which we learn."

What a fantastic way to link myths and stories – and this is a family with stories and connections to spare. Who’s not surprised to learn that Jesse James’s great-grandson, James R. Ross, was a judge, and saddened to learn that he died this year? Did you ever wonder if the James family likes Brad Pitt as Jesse James? Of course they did. “Brad Pitt has stripped away the myth. He stripped away the legend and the lore. He stripped away the Western and all its gratuitous violence. What he left is the man himself, Jesse James. For anyone who wants to meet Jesse James on a personal level, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is the Jesse James movie to see.” Come on Warner Brothers, that deserves a billboard at the least.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ralph Lauren

Has any designer captured the true spirit of America as much as Ralph Lauren? With his fashion and homeware, he has elevated the spirit of the West and made it the heart of the U.S. fashion scene. Then single-handedly, Ralph has taken the style offshore with some signature stores in London and Paris presenting themselves as beautiful examples of romantic ranch living. He’s also opened a new store in South Beach which is white hot, and his signature Madison Avenue store is an experience not to be missed.

In November, Ralph Lauren and his wife were on the front cover of just about every U.S. magazine ranging from Architectural Digest to Vogue as he launched the incredible, huge, hardback coffee table book of his life in fashion. I’ve got battered old Ralph Lauren homeware leather sofas in my Lakeside Cottage in Grasmere and I guess most of us have got some Lauren polo shirts, sweaters or chinos lurking in our wardrobes.

Saatchi & Saatchi is embarking on a wonderful adventure with Ralph Lauren and JCPenney with the introduction of a new range of American Living fashions and homeware. This is a coup by JCPenney CEO, Mike Ullman, who goes back years with Ralph and has a neighboring ranch to him in Colorado. Recently they all went to see Bob Dylan perform in a Woodstock-like field next to the ranch. It rained. I’ve got a great mental picture of these two mighty CEOs, huddled together in front of the make-shift stage, sheltered from the rain under Ralph Lauren ponchos, both thinking it was Woodstock all over again.

Anyway, what’s driving me to write about this is another terrific Ralph Lauren experience I had in the Windy City, Chicago. Right opposite the Park Hyatt and Water Tower is a Ralph Lauren store. Next to that is his only restaurant - RL Restaurant. It’s terrific. Wholesome, comfort food (don’t miss out on the Liver and Bacon) with great French wines and a terrific atmosphere. It feels like you’re eating in Ralph’s living room with beautiful framed photographs across the walls and, of course, Ralph Lauren table and homeware throughout. The wait and bar staff are old school. It’s a beautiful, comfortable way to wrap up an evening – especially when surrounded by 5 inches of freshly fallen snow.

Monday, February 4, 2008

I Am Not A Plastic Bag

Someone once said that the best way to eat an elephant is one mouthful at a time. If there’s an elephant in the room today, it would have to be our inclination to watch documentaries about our impact on the environment and reluctance to actually do something about it. Most of us have huge amounts of information about the issues but turning knowledge into personal action is something else. Take the plastic bag; a symbol of everyday life. Just a year ago, who could imagine coming home from the store without one? Unfortunately, the truth of this convenience is that 1% are recycled and the rest float in streams, clog up drains and float through our oceans like perpetual jellyfish. For years there have been efforts to get people to kick the plastic habit – offering alternatives, charging for plastic, etc. – but quite recently and very rapidly many have decided to do the right thing. Why? Because the reasons to change shifted from all head (why you ought to change) to heart (why you’d want to), and the results have been as contagious as the smiley face.

Today any designer or store that wants to be taken seriously is coming up with stylish, funky, crazy, cool and eccentric ideas about how to get your shopping home. To me the greatest example remains Anya Hindmarch’s tagline: “I am not a plastic bag” printed on…not a plastic bag. Personal, direct, emotional. So let’s change the elephant strategy. The best way to eat an elephant is one great emotional idea at a time.