Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In praise of a great teacher

When my education came to a sudden, startling halt in 1966, I was hurt, confused, and scared. A terrific guy called Norman Ellis immediately took hold of me, made me captain of the Vale of Lune Colts, and filled me with renewed confidence, determination, and ambition. At the time, Norman was the Deputy Head of Ripley St. Thomas Church of England High School and over the next four years he encouraged me both in my personal life and on the sporting field. As far as I’m concerned, he is one of the world’s great teachers.

Over the past 5-6 years Norman and I renewed our friendship and he has attended many of my Lancaster Royal Grammar School visits. Unbeknown to me, he was also a good friend of my L.R.G.S. cricket coach, Doug Cameron, who was also one of those very special teachers.

A while ago I happily agreed to go back to Ripley St. Thomas and put a day aside to inspire the pupils and work on leadership skills with the current crop of teachers. Unfortunately, Norman wasn’t be able to join me (he now suffers from Alzheimer’s and has just moved into a special care home) but I felt his presence and I know it would have given him great pride and joy.

Ripley St. Thomas was founded through a bequest by a Lancastrian called Thomas Ripley who was born in 1790. Thomas made his fortune trading in China and the West Indies and became one of Lancaster’s first merchant princes. He died in August 1852 and left in his will an endowment for a school of similar character to the great Christ’s Hospital in London. His wife, Julia, oversaw the endowment and before she died in 1881, set up Ripley Hospital, an endowed school in the memory of her husband. It opened on November 3, 1864, and was originally endowed for 300 boys and girls who lived within 15 miles of Lancaster Priory and whose fathers had died. The original school included a gym, woodwork and metalwork rooms, a domestic school for girls, and enough full size football pitches to allow 150 boys to play at the same time. Talk about ahead of its time!

A farm of 40 acres kept the school supplied with home produce, meat, and poultry, and also served as a stimulus to teach the girls domestic science. Precedence was given to orphans, who received a practical education based on Christian principles. They were given special training in the trades and many scholars went on to become successful businessmen, journalists, teachers, nurses, social workers, and tradesmen. In 1966, Ripley Boys and St. Thomas Girls School amalgamated to become Ripley St. Thomas Church of England School. Today, 1,400 boys and girls are educated at the school, most of who go on to University.

I was fortunate enough to be the first speaker in the new 6th Form Center. In the morning, I spoke to 300 eager, keen, smiling, passionate students. They were interested, lively, and fun. Sophie, Mica, and April were shining lights. The afternoon was spent with Liz Nicholls, the Headteacher, John Cowper, who leads the business study program, and Ripley’s star-studded teacher leadership team. We worked together on Inspirational Leadership and talked through how we could continue to drive the school forward in a purposeful way.

I left after eight hours at the school, highly motivated and reassured that Lancaster, and indeed England’s future, is in good hands with teachers and pupils like those at Ripley St. Thomas. A positive day in a week when most of the news in the media remained pretty negative.

There is nothing quite so uplifting as spending time with committed inspirational teachers and positive, ambitious, bright pupils.

Thank you, Norman.

Monday, March 30, 2009


How scary is free? Downloads are crippling the music industry and movies are free online before they turn up in movie theaters. Even brands are getting into free in a big way. Krispy Kreme offers free coffee on Inauguration Day and Diesel offers free hot showers at a Dutch music festival. You get the picture. As consumers get more demanding and more fixed on value, companies are learning how to play the free card.

While the idea of free goes way beyond the Internet, the Web has sure convinced millions of young people that free is simply the way it is. Will free fade away? No way. One of the oddest ideas I’ve heard recently was from a guy who was looking at ways to monetize free! Good luck, mister.

A smarter way to get ahead of free was launched recently by The Guardian. Their Open Platform will give third parties free access to a huge amount of content (they’re talking over one million articles) from The Guardian to incorporate into their own sites. The ambition is amazing: to put The Guardian’s content into the fabric of the Internet – an Internet where most people find stuff through search ad links rather than nicely controlled home pages. The Guardian is also releasing the top sets of their publicly-available data. If you want to know who’s drinking all the champagne or the running totals of the U.K. bank bailouts, you can know as much as The Guardian by accessing Data Store.

So how does The Guardian expect to benefit from letting its cultural capital fly out the window? For a start, by accelerating its brand worldwide. The Guardian has a flying start. It has online expertise – at the 2008 British Press Awards www.guardian.co.uk was named website of the year. It has a long history of activism and advocacy. It has writers and commentators who aren’t afraid to be provocative. Open Platform is an opportunity to reach more people with The Guardian’s ideas and curated points of view. This is why people started newspapers in the first place: to give the news and set it in context. An important part of that context is who is doing the telling, aka The Brand. The Guardian has had a good look at itself and realized what business it’s in: the ideas business, not the print-on-paper business or even the news business. Newsprint was an historical legacy, not the core of the enterprise. Ideas could just as easily be passed on over the Internet, or by one person talking to another.

The Guardian is unleashing itself as a free spirit online. Free content with brand and advertising attached. Working with free, not against it. We’ll be seeing a lot more of this. I’ll be watching the evolution of free very closely. Come to think of it, I’m involved in it right now by publishing this blog.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The name game

Stories and storytelling are passions of mine and favorite post topics. I’m always on the prowl for examples, insights, and ideas about great stories and one subset fascinates me: short stories. I mean really short stories. Maybe it’s inspired by my years in advertising where 30-seconds is a lifetime, but I do believe that fantastic stories can be told in very few words, even without sight, sound, or motion. Let’s start with "man bites dog". Provocative, enigmatic, surprising, and full of strong emotion. Ok, some of you might feel that these three words are only the beginning of a story, a headline if you like, but my response is that even headlines can make strong plays in the story field. A scene in the movie The Shipping News, adapted from Annie Proulx’s book, illustrates this point well. A newspaper publisher is talking to the main character about writing headlines. He asks for a headline to describe the dark clouds forming outside the window. "Horizon fills with dark clouds" is the first attempt. The publisher himself suggests "Imminent storm threatens village". When he’s challenged about what happens if the storm never turns up, he comes straight back with "Village spared from deadly storm". It’s great media logic and illustrates the power of being a man of few words.

Now let’s get even more reductive. I guess you all know that when you see a product like a Toffee Pop biscuit in store, in the product development process it was called something like “that caramel center we cover with biscuit crust and chocolate”, or even biscuit X3766-pm/24. The name Toffee Pop takes the biscuit from product to experience. I saw a great example of this transforming power of naming recently.

A couple of hundred four year-old kids were given carrots and told that these were 'X-ray vision carrots'. (I guess this was a cute play on the old story of Battle of Britain pilots eating carrots to give them sharper vision). I can tell you from experience that carrots are not always a favorite with that age group, but this experiment showed that the children who were offered the 'X-ray vision carrots' ate double the number than the ones who were offered plain old carrots. Even more interestingly, the effect stuck. They continued to munch enthusiastically even if they didn’t have the sexy X-ray name attached. The same results have been found with adults – and sparked a cottage industry in elaborated menu writing. When a Seafood Filet was called a "Succulent Italian Seafood Filet", sales went up 28 percent. People wanted an experience, not just a filet. Researcher Collin Payne summed up the effect beautifully, "Whatever sparks their imagination seems to spark their appetite".

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hot Heads

You’ve got to love scientists. Imagine a bunch of guys (I’m just assuming here) sitting round a table thinking about what to study next. One of them suggests yawning – the excitement is palpable. But hang on a minute, what can they use to study the effects of this effect? At once, one of them springs from his chair. “Parakeets,” he says. “We’ll use parakeets.” And so they did.

As it turned out, the results were fascinating and the parakeet revealed more insight into the human brain than you would have dreamed possible. Parakeets have big brains and are not inflicted with contagious yawning like humans are. You know how it happens: you’re at an important meeting and the minute one person yawns, everyone follows. Parakeets live wild in the extreme temperatures of Australia and it turns out that yawning is closely connected with brain temperature. Like that other thinking machine – the computer – overheating is a problem for the brain. Alone, the brain burns up to a third of the calories we consume, so a lot of heat is generated. Yawning is a way we try to keep our brain temperature down by drawing in cool air. That’s why we tend not to yawn if the temperature is warmer than our bodies. Inhaling hot air will not help cool a hot brain. From this research, scientists at the State University of New York have proposed that excessive yawning may be an indicator of overheating in the brain and that is not a good thing. So now we know that yawning is designed to cool the brain down and is not just a sign of boredom as most of us thought.

Think about it. The next time someone yawns at a meeting, you’re probably looking at a hot head.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The road to music is lined with emotion

I know in my bones that music is one of the greatest human connectors. It’s communication, it’s entertainment, it’s engagement, and it’s emotion. Music accelerates us right into the Everywhen, that place where past, present, and future connect. It does it more quickly than pictures and more deeply than words. No big surprise then to learn that musicians have brains more tuned to identify emotion than the rest of us. Given that the ability to detect emotional resonance from sound is a key survival skill (think of understanding in a heartbeat what a branch snap in the forest means), you have to wonder why musicians haven’t done better in world domination.

At Northwestern University, they have put some facts around the connection between musicians and how they are tuned into emotion. They found that because musicians spend so much of their time doing close listening, they have highly developed auditory systems. That seems reasonable to me although a little underwhelming – but there is more. Over the years, researchers have found that musicians are much more sensitive to nuances of emotion in speech. Recent studies suggest that musicians may even be able to sense emotion after hearing a sound for no more than 50 milliseconds. When you consider that a millisecond is one thousandth of a second – that’s fast!

The way they tested this response was very cool. Students were invited to watch a subtitled nature film while wearing headphones. During the film, the sound of a distressed baby crying was played for 250 milliseconds. That’s not much crying time. What’s interesting is that musicians locked onto the emotional component of that sound immediately, whereas the non-musicians did not. Even better, they de-emphasized the simpler part of the sound; that’s the part that carries less emotion. I think this is brilliant. Scientists categorizing sound with emotion as more complex and more important. We’ve come a long way.

It certainly got me thinking about how so many of our ideas people in Saatchi & Saatchi are obsessed with music. Open most doors in our offices and there’ll be music playing. Maybe this isn’t a diversion but simply the way they keep their emotional muscles in tune. The next time you’re hiring, watch out for the musicians.

Monday, March 23, 2009

True Value

The economic storm that has swept the world has made one point strikingly obvious: we are entering a new reality. We are already seeing people, who only a few months ago were still keen on making major purchases, putting all, or some, of that cash aside just in case. A few months ago you could walk through a supermarket and see the occasional shopper working out comparative prices with calculator in hand. This behavior is now commonplace.

I see this as a shift to a safe harbor. A breathing space where people evaluate their decisions and take new bearings as they decide what to do next. I believe that what follows will be a new understanding of value.

When I was a kid, price seemed easy. The price of products on the shelf stayed pretty much the same over a long period. When they did increase, they usually crept up slowly. Price changes were something you noticed in the long-term, like when you looked back on the cost of your first car or the price of a movie ticket ten years before. More recently we have seen prices go down as well as up. Anyone who has been buying personal computers over the last 25 years will have been astonished every time they went in to upgrade. Not only at how the price had decreased, but at the increase in value. It is very clear that price and value are distinct from each other. From a consumer’s point of view, price is associated with the number a manufacturer puts on the label and value is what people perceive they are getting.

Here’s how I see it. Value is created in the minds of consumers when they are getting a good deal. Value is created in the hearts of consumers when they feel a deep emotional connection with the service, brand, or product. I believe this happens at both extremes of the market. Already we are seeing some well-off shoppers reluctant to flaunt their wealth at a time when others are hurting. It’s very human in that it is inspired by empathy. There is simply no point in governments telling people that it’s their responsibility to get out there and spend to kick-start the economy when there are such human qualities in play. Simply telling people what to do no longer works. They are in control and they know it. Increasingly they will be on the hunt for value in goods that have both realistic pricing and high quality.

Look out for change in the luxury goods market. We’re already seeing products that attract less, though offer subtle cues to people who have a knowledge of workmanship and connoisseurship. Classy rather than flashy. At the other extreme of the market we come head-to-head with commodification. You can only lower prices so far to improve your price. Shoppers are turned off by something that no one else seems to want. It’s a kind of negative buzz. In medieval times, lepers were issued a bell to warn people of their approach. Some discounts and offers seems to me to be tolling for many products. The race to the bottom (think of bank rates in the U.S. for instance!) too often seems a one way street. The saving grace for successful brands, and for Lovemarks, will be to attract consumers with great service, outstanding products, perfect empathy, and emotional resonance. Will this be easy? No. But it will create a new reality that genuinely looks to consumers for inspiration, and that can only be a huge plus when it comes to creating true value.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The spirit of the pen

It’s my experience that however great a change sweeps over us, there is always room for what went before. I guess it’s neatly summed up in the aphorism ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’. All this is the long way round to explaining why I still use a fax. While my faxes are often sent in the form of PDFs, it’s the spirit of the fax that lives on – or should I say the spirit of handwriting. Last year I mentioned how much I value the intimacy of a handwritten postcard, today I want to consider further the power of handwriting.

Anyone who works with me knows that I often communicate in the form of handwritten notes on typed memos. That combination of handwriting and typed text brings a freshness and immediacy I don’t get in email. It’s the contrast. The sense of two different ways of thinking at work together. One making a commentary (or drawing a bullseye) on the other. The message seems to be: we share all this knowledge, but this is what to pay attention to, this is what to get onto next.

From the small number of handwritten notes I receive, I get the feeling that handwriting may be a dying art. That would be a real loss of expression and intimacy.

This thought was echoed by a comment from the BBC. It was reported that registrars of births, deaths, and marriages in the UK remarkably still record in cursive script. The great events of our lives, the connections between past, present, and future, all handwritten. How the data jockeys have allowed this little piece of history slip by them is a mystery, but let’s appreciate this gift for as long as we have it.

Of course the decline or demise of handwriting has been foreseen many times. The invention of the typewriter inspired the usually canny Scientific American to predict in 1867 that, “the weary process of learning penmanship in schools will be reduced to writing one’s own signature and playing on the literary piano”. Nearly 150 years later there’s life in the old pen yet – although the ‘literary piano’ seems to be lost in the attic gathering dust.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

So Many A Second

I love finding smart new ways to get big ideas across quickly and dramatically. When you get it right, the results are spectacular. Check out the Ah-Ha Factor for a great example. Here’s another - studio: luden’s So Many A Second.

With what seems to be to be classic Dutch simplicity, two young designers have taken on the huge challenge of information overload, and won. So Many A Second is hugely effective. The father of information architecture (and original host of TED), Richard Saul Wurman, would be proud to see how far we have come in combating what he brilliantly termed Information Anxiety.

So Many A Second visually represents what happens in a second over a wide range of events. They connect time and space with tremendous impact. Follow the flood of babies born every second in the world. Track the slower pace of skulls representing deaths. Experience that Ah-Ha! moment when you reflect on the reality that our planet has finite resources. Watch 150 trees a second falling down on your screen to remind you that this is the number felled every second. You don’t just read a number, you make a direct connection. You can also create your own screens. Just type in the stats and the site will do the rest.

studio:ludens bring statistics – because that’s all they essentially are – to life with stylish visuals. In a time of constant change, simple visualizations can do more to shift attitudes than complicated essays or turgid PowerPoints. My only quibble is that the site doesn’t take advantage of the full sisomo vocabulary. We’ve got great Sight and Motion, but no Sound. A gentle tinkling as the 200 stars being born every second in the universe tumble down the screen would have taken the site to a new dimension.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

15 Things I Love About Rio

In this world of economic uncertainty, one country continues to power ahead, albeit at a slower pace. Brazil has, for the most part, remained isolated from the economic turmoil and is still resilient and strong. Sure it has many social problems to contend with, but the leadership is committed and focused, and confidence remains high. I’ve loved Brazil since I was nine years old when I first saw Pelé score the magical goal in the 1958 World Cup final. I love the All Blacks in rugby; I love Brazil in soccer. They turned a great game into the Beautiful Game, and over the years, I have collected a lot of memorabilia from the great legends of Brazil.

Saatchi & Saatchi has a wonderful partner in Brazil through Fabio Fernandes at F/Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, with agencies in Rio and Sao Paulo. I was with Fabio last week exploring the opportunity of repositioning our business from being one of the most creative agencies in the world (Brazil included), to one of the biggest and most creative. One thing I know for sure, acquisitions in this environment deliver better value than in last year’s overheated flameout.

Rio is one of my favorite cities in the entire world. It gets a bum rap in terms of crime, violence, and drugs. I have visited the city four or five times now, and as long as you keep your wits about you as you would in any other major city, there is absolutely nothing to fear. Rio throbs with life, passion, music, and fun. It also represents great value. From a geographic perspective, carved between sand, rock, and sea, it is simply the most beautiful city in the world (Cape Town being its only rival). The authorities have done a terrific job in renovating and keeping the beaches upgraded and beautiful.

Some things to love in Rio include:

1. The Hippie Market just off Ipanema Beach
It’s been there for 40 years and takes place every Sunday. It shows progressive and traditional Brazilian art along with endless stalls of handicraft, local fashion, and knick knacks. It’s also a great place to meet other expatriate travelers whiling away Sunday afternoon in this great city.

2. The music
“There was music in the cafes at night.” Bossa nova, samba, and beautiful Brazilian rhythms play throughout the cafes and bars all evening. Many of the beachside kiosks also have upbeat modern Brazilian music to get you through the day.

3. Havaianas
Half the price you see in Europe, and in Rio they sell five times more models than the rest of the world. At between $7.00 and $10.00 a pair, they are irresistible. There is one store in particular on the main street of Ipanema that has captured the market in terms of choice and price. I defy you to leave here without buying a dozen pairs to take home.

4. Baretto-Londra at FasanoThis is a very cool spot based on the London punk scene in the 70’s. It has two huge Vivienne Westwood Union Jacks using green instead of blue on opposite walls, a very funky bar, old style leather seating, and a display of full vinyl album covers from the 70’s. The music is a mix of 70’s and 80’s UK/US stuff and it makes for a destination night out, or post dinner Saturday night spot.

5. A tour of the FavelasThe slums have been made notorious through the movie City of God, but accommodation has now been reached with the government, the police, and the slumlords. The government is trying to put in hospitals and schools to ensure living standards improve, the police are cracking down on drugs, and the people, themselves, are standing up. You can now tour the favelas on motorbikes or with a special tour guide who will take you in and actually show you a couple of the social projects the authorities have started. Thanks to everyone in the food chain benefiting and signing off, you will find these tours perfectly safe. Normal guides aren’t equipped to do this; but these special tours are not to be missed.

6. Caipirinha
Made with cachaca, sugar, and limes. This is the national drink of Brazil. Refreshing, fun, and light. Perfect for beach or poolside.

7. Local cold beer
We work for Skol, which is part of the InterBev empire. Brazilians love their beer but rarely drink to excess. It’s a cold, refreshing, light beverage which is all about music, fun, and friends. The brewing heritage goes way back and, because it is German based, it is of the highest quality. Skol and Brahma are the every day beers of choice. Bohemia is a great premium Pilsner.

8. Santa Teresa
A very old district up the hill in Rio. The old trams are still the preferred method of transport up there and a new boutique hotel has just opened – Hotel Santa Teresa. It has the most beautiful gardens and bar, and is a complete haven and refuge from Rio’s 13 million population. The spa is also top notch and it’s a great place for a different kind of weekend. Just up the road is one of Brazil’s great local restaurants, Aprazível, which is like dining in a tree house. The staff is attentive, smart, and ready to please. The experience of indulging in the local dishes, Brazilian wine, and spectacular views of downtown Rio and Guanabara Bay will guarantee a memorable night.

9. Fasano
I stay nowadays in the Fasano hotel right on Ipanema Beach. Philippe Starck designed this picture postcard hotel. The design of the glass bar, rooftop swimming pool, and the rounded mirrors (“ears that see”) which are located throughout the Fasano, is a great example of Starck’s creativity. The lobby space is airy and flowing with the breeze off the beach. The Fasano Al Mare restaurant is set right off the beautifully decorated lounge area. When booking your room, an Oceanside view room is a must. Spend some time on the rooftop pool to while away the hours. On the eighth floor, it overlooks Ipanema Beach and serves great snacks. The bossa nova kind of atmosphere that surrounds the trendy Fasano is a constant reminder that you are in Rio.

10. Spicy Crabmeat
On the shell, this specialty of Rio is not to be missed. It is one of my favorites served at the Fasano pool bar.

11. The Copacabana Palace Hotel
Along Copacabana Beach is the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel, which is reminiscent of the Majestic in Cannes. Opened in the 1930’s, it houses The Hotel Cipriani Restaurant and has its own tennis court. The highlight for me is on the first floor where there are photographs of stars and celebrities who have stayed there. From Mary Pickford to Bono, from the Duke of Kent to Princess Diana.

12. Sugarloaf
No visit to Rio is complete without a cable car ride to the top of Sugarloaf. Named for the unit of sugar that the Portuguese used to ship back to Portugal, the views from Sugarloaf are absolutely astonishing. You can look over all the bays of Rio across to the Corcovado.

13. Christ the Redeemer
A must to visit. The 20 minute train ride through the National Park and the forestry is inspirational in itself, and the views are sensational.

14. Maracana
The home of Brazilian soccer. It will house the 2014 World Cup. You can do behind the scene tours here, which will surely stimulate you soccer fans.

15. Soccer
Soccer is a passion in Brazil, and in Rio you have Botafogo, Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, and Fluminense all vying for the top spot. Weekends bring top games and the good natured enthusiasm, joy, and passion for the game. It's a great thing to be part of.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Telling the perfect tale

There’s something about storytelling that attracts 'How-To' lists. While the number of them doesn’t come anywhere close to 'how-to-lose weight' or 'how-to-get-abs-of-steel' lists, it’s a significant and growing genre. A while back I posted a list by movie producer Peter Guber, and now I want to share some insight from the master of story, David Mamet, that I found in his book Bambi vs Godzilla.

Let’s start with the great advice Mamet gives in this quick guide to what makes a successful scene.

1. Who wants what from whom?
2. What happens if they don’t get it?
3. Why now?

That’s a threesome that could be pinned to the forehead of anyone in the business. They go far beyond communication skills right into the heart of effective negotiation and strategy.

But that’s not all. Mamet also shares some age-old tips he’s picked up from the great talents of the movie business industry. Succinct and direct, they have that distinctive Mamet whammy. Just when you think you’ve got it, it swings around and hits you from another direction. I’ve added my own comments to Mamet’s instructions.

4. Stay with the money. Solid business advice whichever way you look at it. In storytelling it means sticking to the big idea. So many good stories get diluted. Keep it simple.

5. Burn the first reel. You can’t get into the story fast enough. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” not “In the late eighteenth century, France was overtaken by blah, blah, blah”. Fairy tales get it right with “Once upon a time”…then into it.

6. If you laughed at the dailies, you aren’t going to laugh at the picture. Stories are written for the people who go to them, not for those who helped create them. All that stuff that impresses your co-workers should be dumped on the floor of the editing room in your head.

7. Get out on your biggest laugh. As any comic will tell you – timing is everything. The rule for stage performers is simple and absolute. “When you come on, be on. When you’re done, get off.” A great story knows when or how to finish.

8. If you can’t figure out what the story is about, it’s probably not worth telling. That one alone is worth the price of admission.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Make a list

Everything feels more complicated in 2009. No one really knows what will happen tomorrow, let alone next month, or heaven help us, next year. When it gets this complex, I always reach for one of the oldest and surest ways to focus: the list. Nothing inspires action faster than a sharp list. I often end my presentations with “5 Things to do Tomorrow”. After all the ideas and visuals and discussion, summing up with “5 Things” sends people out the door with a mission. Breaking what needs to be done into its component parts is the foundation of great execution. Eating an elephant seems impossible, until you see the list. Trunk, ears, back fillets (just kidding).

If you ever need practical proof of the power of lists, consider Jeffrey Skiles. He was the co-pilot on US Airways Flight 1549 that made a dramatic emergency landing on the Hudson River. I have posted about the extraordinary flying skills of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, but let’s also tip our hats to Skiles. He turned a moment of terror into a calm set of decisions by carefully working through his emergency water-landing checklist. Instead of seeing disaster, he saw a clear plan of what to do and the step-by-step order to do it in.

At Saatchi & Saatchi we use 100 Day Plans to keep us focused on the three or four big things we need to do. A list pares away the minutia so you can concentrate on what really matters. It’s not about argument or debate or alternatives, it’s about action. Now. Young people new to the work environment often get bogged down. There’s busy work out there stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see. They start by feeling responsible for all of it – until they give up and don’t feel responsible for any of it. This is not only a failure of management, it’s a failure of imagination. The imagination to know what will make a real difference.

So in the spirit of list-making, 5 Things to do Tomorrow:

  1. Refer to your 100 Day Plan.
  2. List what needs to be done next.
  3. Start each item with a verb. You want a list of real, physical actions you will take.
  4. Cross off at least half the items on your list. Decide what’s to go and what’s to stay based on importance, not urgency.
  5. Get started.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Learning from Capucine

A while back, I posted on an old saying that actors use which apparently originated with comedian W. C. Fields. “Never work with animals and children.” Actors are wary of kids because they understand their screen-grabbing power all too well. There must be nothing worse than acting your heart out only to find the audience’s attention riveted on a child in the background trying to help a dog chase its tail. The authenticity, frankness, energy, and let’s face it, all-round cuteness of children, is extraordinary.

Recently I saw a wonderful expression of these great kid qualities in action. A young French girl, Capucine, set out with her mother to raise money for children in Mongolia. Enthusiastic and open-hearted, their motivation was simple. Capucine is four and goes to a school where she has lots of books but has learnt that there are many children who have neither schools nor books. She wanted to do something about it. What followed is a practical demonstration of a child helping to make the world a better place – in collaboration with the marvellous energy of her mother.

Usually a little girl and her mother can not reach much further than their friends, family, and neighbors with their fund-raising efforts, but Edurelief used the video sharing site, Vimeo, as a way to touch the world. Capucine now has a global fan club, and no wonder, as we check out a series of simple videos featuring Capucine earnestly discussing why it is important for people to buy the t-shirts her mother has made and raise money for books for children in Mongolia. I’m not sure why Capucine has picked Mongolia, but she is so enchanting we can only agree with her.

Capucine is such a compelling communicator because she does it her way. She has a story to tell, she makes her own connections between her privileged life and the lives of children in Mongolia, and (best of all) she has a solution we can be part of. It’s a lesson to anyone in the storytelling business. Spend some time with Capucine and in exchange for your master class in communication, make a well-earned donation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Walk the walk

Video: YouTube

Pop culture has many great qualities, but the greatest has got to be its ability to endlessly surprise us. Wildly inventive stories, fresh interpretations, layers of questions, rich mystery. I have posted before about how important icons are to Lovemarks. At their best, they sum up brilliantly what it is we love about our Lovemarks, and I’ve been sent an example of the best of the best. A fantastic sixties icon that continues to compel and excite decades later.

Let’s start at beginning with one of the most instantly recognizable, often imitated, album covers ever. Yes, Abbey Road. Named by Rolling Stone as number 14 in their list of the '500 Greatest Albums of All Time', Abbey Road is an enduring icon. There they are. John, Ringo, Paul, and George striding (in that order) across the zebra crossing on Abbey Road. It’s dynamic, it’s sharp, and since it first hit stores in 1969, this image has been pored over for secret messages and stories. Why isn’t Paul wearing shoes? Why is he out of step with the others? What did John’s white suit mean? Is this cover telling us that Paul is really dead? Etc. In the ten minutes the Fab Four could spare him to pose, photographer Iain Macmillan certainly created an enduring icon.

Forty years later, hundreds of Beatles fans still do “the walk” across Abbey Road and (most importantly) photograph each other - myself included. Watch this wonderful snatch of reality that beautifully captures an icon at work below. This is a day in the life of the most famous pedestrian crossing in the world. What the guy who drops his trousers was hoping to bring to the party is anybody’s guess, but it’s all part of the experience of Abbey Road. If you ever doubted the power of icons, this video will sweep them away. By the way, if you want to take this icon obsession to its ultimate, check out the Abbey Road webcam. A street, a crossing, and people making memories 24 hours a day!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fail fast, learn fast, fix fast

I was heartened the other day to see that even Warren Buffett can own up to making a wrong call in today’s choppy economic waters. Not that I’d wish for one moment that Buffett should lose so much as a cent, but it did confirm something I’ve recently been talking about with people at Saatchi & Saatchi. The historic loss for Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway came on the back of dramatic falls in energy prices at a time when many indicators were still pointing up. In the latest of his famous letters to shareholders, Buffett fronted up: “During 2008 I did some dumb things in investment.”

What this tells me is that, at this time, no one – and I mean no one – can see very far into the future. The current turmoil is contributing more alarm and confusion to make the principle even clearer. Complicating the human struggle with foresight, I believe that the higher up the management stack you sit, the harder it is to know what’s coming. That’s why I tell our people (the ones who interact directly with consumers, clients, and suppliers) that this can uniquely be their time. Companies need their insights, intuitions, and connections now more than ever. When something big is coming at you from around the corner, the people on the ground will feel the vibrations first. They’ll be best placed to decide what to do fast: get us out of the way or set up a roadside stall.

Despite all the drama and uncertainly, this is the perfect time to take smart risks. Not to run out into the traffic and wave a sign, but to get a good measure on what’s around them, see an opportunity, and act fast. Swift decisive action is always a challenge for any company, especially when it is spread around the world. At Saatchi & Saatchi, we have a three-day rule. If anyone in the company has a problem that lasts more than 24 hours, they send it to me. I get back to them with an answer within 24 hours. They then have 24 hours to implement. Fail fast, learn fast and fix fast.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lifting the ban on Ugly

While I’ve been talking about Winning Ugly Together this year, I’ve had more support at my back than I dreamed of. Ugly is roaring back into hearts and minds everywhere and the same ideas are at stake: authenticity, focus, value. Ugly gives us all a whack on the side of the head to shake out complacency and come up with motivating insight.

Where’s the best place to track the rise and rise of Ugly? No, not models or movies. Fruit and vegetables have the answers. Seriously. In the Lovemarks book I mentioned the durian, that foul-smelling, great-tasting fruit that people love to hate. It’s knobbly and bumpy and won’t be winning beauty contests any time soon. Me, I’m not a fan, but the durian is at the vanguard of a new delight in new flavors, new textures, new colors, new authenticity. In that company, ugly can win.

Put the growing popularity of this strange fruit and its like together with the growing demand for fruit and vegetables that look more natural, and we’re headed somewhere interesting. Decades of sacrificing fragrance and taste for visual perfection have ended. The European Commission is right in there. We all know how much they like making rules, but this year they have abolished more than 20 of them. Twenty or so rules that banned all but the most perfect-looking produce from supermarkets. Yes, the wasteful “ban on ugly”(as the EU’s agriculture commissioner herself called it) is history for 26 fruits and vegetables. But even though this will cut down on waste (and the waste we’re talking about is huge: Sainsbury’s reckons the rules had cut out about 20% of what is produced in the U.K.) there’s more going on here.

We’re seeing change pushed by consumers who are more and more engaged in their personal search for true value. And they are finding it in authenticity, sustainability, and plain common sense. Yes, the ugly fruit – including my favorite, the Jamaican ugli fruit, which has got to be the official fruit of Winning Ugly Together – serve as terrific symbols of what people are wanting now. The fact that the Commission kept the ugly rules in play for three-quarters of produce sold in the EU just shows that while they know which way the wind is blowing, they can’t take flight.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Grasmere update

I was up in Grasmere last weekend helping Lancaster University pitch for government funding for a digital hub project. The government is ready to invest heavily in Digital Britain, and Lancaster, under Roger Lee and Rachel Cooper, have put together an innovative digital hub proposal which brings together the best of academia, business, and community. Thirty universities were on the original list and 9 were shortlisted. So we had to go to Swindon to make a 40-minute pitch to four academics. It was certainly a change from the hurly burly of life at Saatchi & Saatchi, and great fun. It is particularly inspiring to see the government putting their money where their mouth is.

A five hour drive later (thanks to John, Lancaster’s University driver), I finally made it to Grasmere where John Daniel, who had just arrived from Montpellier, was taking a break from writing his new novel. We sat down for a traditional Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimp and Calf’s Liver dinner at Andy Hill’s great Jumble Room restaurant and started to talk about how food has moved forward in the Lake District and Cumbria.

Three restaurants have Michelin stars in my immediate neighborhood. Simon Rogan’s L’enclume is the leader of the pack in terms of innovation and excitement. Holbeck Ghyll and Sharrow Bay at Lake Ullswater maintain their stars. Sharrow Bay has been opened for about 60 years now and I first went there with a guy called Peter Comerford who ran a trading company in Yemen in the 70’s. When I was with P&G, I visited Yemen many times and Peter and his company made Tide the No.1 detergent there. He took me to Sharrow Bay 30 years ago and it’s just been getting better and better. For a start, its location overlooking Lake Ullswater is as close to paradise as you can imagine. Then there are Head Chefs, Colin Akrigg and Mark Teasdale, producing classic British inspired menus with pretty much everything coming from within an eight-mile radius of the restaurant. Nico Chieze is probably the best wine guy around.

Simon Rogan of L’enclume was named Best Chef in Britain in the 2009 Good Food Guides Editor’s Choice Awards. I can’t imagine how Heston Blumenthal took that!

I’ll be back at the Holbeck Ghyll next month with an old friend and now High Court Judge, Phillip Sycamore. Holbeck’s is owned by David and Patricia Nicholson and has got a terrific selection of French reds.

Gilpin Lodge is pretty close (I think it lost its star a year or so ago) and there’s a new comer that I’m tipping for further recognition - Hipping Hall in Kirkby Lonsdale.

On Saturday, JD and I went out with James Mackie who did all the interiors for my Grasmere cottage. He also moonlights as a keyboard player for a very funky group, Heroes of She. James achieved fame in an earlier life as a keyboard player for Madness when they were in their prime. He redesigned Hipping Hall, which has now been taken over by a talented young entrepreneur Andrew Wildsmith, who, like James and me, is an old boy of Lancaster Royal Grammar School. It’s a wonderful venue. Very romantic, complete with medieval minstrels gallery and the food is simple, high quality, tasty, and imaginative. The wine list has something for everyone and is very well priced. James’ décor is peaceful, restful, and intimate. Go now before Michelin discovers it and the crowds converge.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

That Ah Ha! Factor

The Ah-Ha! factor is the moment all great communicators hang out for. It’s when that cartoon light bulb goes off above a head – followed by a wide grin. Nothing excites us as much as when we suddenly ‘see’ something we had been struggling over. I remember when I was working in the Middle East trying to sell Pepsi. It was a daunting task. Every store I went into already had a Coke sign above it, and if not a Coke sign, some other local beverage I’d never even heard about. The job seemed too big and too hard. That was until I had an Ah-Ha! moment. It came when my boss, Herbert Schmitz, said to me, “Stop worrying about how big the task is. Sell your product one case at a time”. And that is what we did until all those single cases added up to a big breakthrough in sales.

I had a similar moment when I first heard the Saatchi & Saatchi spirit summed up as ‘Nothing is Impossible’. The thought that anything was up for consideration was liberating. In an instant you get the power of creativity when coupled with effectiveness. In fact, that small sentence had such a powerful effect on me it clinched my decision to accept the job to be the Worldwide CEO of the company.

Creating these Ah-Ha! moments is going to be ever more critical in tough times. I believe that inspiration will guide us through and that means great communication and a lot of Ah-Ha! moments. It’s all about encapsulating new directions, making the complex simple and the surprising obvious. It needs great storytellers and intuitive analysts, new thinking, and constant reframing. When something has become invisible with overuse, or put to one side as too difficult to comprehend, it’s time to reframe.

A KRConnect reader sent a great example. Most people struggle with scale. How many of us understand just how big a trillion is? In the current economic climate it’s a figure that’s tossed around far more than most of us like, but we’ve become used to it. So, apart from knowing that a trillion is one million times a million, how big is it?

Let’s reframe a trillion as time and start counting backwards by seconds from New Year’s Day 2009.

One million seconds ago was December 20, 2008. It was just under a week before Christmas last year and retailers were worrying about the effect of the recession on Christmas sales. One billion seconds takes us back to April 24, 1977, around the time President Carter was pardoning Vietnam draft evaders and The Clash had just released their first album. One trillion seconds takes us back to November 16, 27,681 B.C., the peak of the Ice Age when Neanderthals were finally becoming extinct in Europe.

Ah-Ha! I get it.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Anyone in the creative industry has to feel for music and movie businesses as they battle piracy and file sharing. The desire for FREE on the Internet is a huge challenge to anyone who produces digital entertainment. I think that emerging from the torrent of files containing movies, TV shows, and music tracks that are being forwarded from computer to computer, is a word that will have a terrific impact on our future. That word is share.

In a world where the environment is under threat and credit is harder to find than a CEO on a lunch break, the ability to share – and come up with products that encourage sharing – is a new frontier for innovation. We’re already familiar with some prescient examples, like Zipcar. They set out to help people without cars to share one for a limited time but are inspired by a larger purpose: to enable simple and responsible urban living. You want to pick your mother up from the airport? Zipcar is a great solution to do what you need to do.

The Internet is a virtual machine for sharing – YouTube to share your creativity; Facebook to share your life; Second Life to share your dreams; Wikipedia to share your knowledge and eBay to share your belongings! This is sharing as a way to get more value – and who doesn’t have that near the top of their agenda? It’s not about less but about better. One efficient lawn mower for the street. A full set of home handy tools for an apartment building. Where it gets interesting is the emotional adjustments people are prepared to make. However hard we try to encourage our kids to share, anyone with a two-year-old knows that it doesn’t come naturally! Sharing is a skill born of empathy. We learn it as we learn how to work and play together and to make compromises that benefit us all. Sharing can inspire a renewed sense of community and belonging. Who doesn’t want to have that as part of their life? I believe that making things to share will become a trillion dollar industry as we work together to make the world a better place for us all to live in.

Share this thought with a friend.