Thursday, October 28, 2010

Out of Africa

Here’s a blog post from my eldest daughter Nikki, who just returned from an amazing trip to Africa.

My journey to Kenya was an astonishing experience! I arrived and was transported to the domestic airport by a driver who did not know where it was. I spent an hour traveling between terminals, asked a random guy from the street to direct us. Eventually returned to the terminal we tried first to find a pilot looking for us after writing my name on a scrap of paper. It was time to board, with luggage.

A forty minute flight on a tiny plane and myself and seven others were deposited in the middle of nowhere and obviously there was no one to meet us. The arrival of the plane prompted a few lone Masai to appear from nowhere offering us beads and bracelets, carrying their stock around their necks. The pilot stayed with us in case of lion attack, of course!

Eventually two vehicles arrived and our journey to our first camp began. We immediately saw zebra, giraffe and ostrich and the excitement began to bubble. Our first camp consisted of tents, shared or individual with a tiny bed and solar lamp. A basin of river water (browner than brown) warmed by the sun was provided to freshen up and each tent had its own toilet tent, a hole dug in the ground with a makeshift seat on which to balance and a stick to shovel soil on top afterwards. We had bucket showers of (yes, you guessed it), sun warmed river water and sat round a camp fire in the evening. The camp had staff and grooms for horses. They cooked, set the table made afternoon tea, cleaned your boots, polished your chaps, put hot water bottles in your bed a night dug out your loo, washed your clothes (no thanks) and brought you coffee at 6.00am. All very ex pat.

We broke camp every 2 to 3 days and the vehicles would go ahead and set up the new camp.

We had tiny but fit Somali ponies, I trusted my little man “LoDieger” (catchy name) and we rode for 50kms a day, jumping and galloping over obstacles in the blistering heat. We encountered herds of wildebeest and herded groups of galloping zebra, we rode quietly through herds of gently grazing giraffe and in leopard gorge played hide and seek with a large family of hyena.

On day 2 we rode at dusk to lion rock. We had encountered bush buck, wildebeest and giraffe on the way. We were all chatting happily when our guide hushed us “sshhh we are being stalked by a lion right now” he pointed and there she was, the lioness, crouched low at the base of lion rock, only a few metres away, her cubs hidden above, dusk being the time that predators hunt. The atmosphere was electric, you could have heard a pin drop. Our guide asked us to group together as close to each other as we could, so no one could be picked out. We all had to stay perfectly still as movement stimulates the chase.

Our leader approached the lioness carrying a bull whip as his weapon (!!??) and a stand off commenced. She seemed so huge, her eyes so cold, her presence so calculating. I felt very small and insignificant just one mouthful when face to face with this ferocious hunter! Time ticked on she circled behind us and our leader kept advancing towards her, gaining ground, our back up rider became agitated as the lion passed behind our group. At this moment I looked down and somehow on the ground in the middle of this vast wilderness was a single tattered shoe! Aagghhh!!! After what seemed like an eternity the lioness retreated and took cover. It took me some time to find my voice after that. What an experience!!!

Game drives were also offered where we would go out at night with “Netty” our Masai spotter to kills we had found earlier and watch the lions feeding in the vehicle spotlight. Driving across the vast plains at night where all the herd animals huddled for safety watching aardwolves, zorillas, springhares and mongoose scurry along in our lights, some of these animal species I have seen only in pictures.

We traveled to the heart of the great migration and were in the presence of over half a million animals we watched both zebra and wildebeest make a river crossing where hundreds swarm across and many do not make it, becoming overwhelmed and unable to climb up the bank, falling in their droves back into the water where the crocodiles roll and snap and the lions pick them off and suffocate them as they emerge, the water awash with floating corpses.

We were inches away from cheetah kill where three brothers took down an impala, opened it up and devoured the innards like they were sucking spaghetti. Powerful stuff.

The horses were terrified by elephants and we were chased by huge trumpeting flapping beasts every time we approached, galloping after our back up rider for the escape route as our lead rider stood between us and them.

At night the lions roared and the hippos sounded so close I was convinced I would open the tent and come eye to big pink eye with one of these lumbering giants. The horses were tethered at night on a long line and guarded from the lions by local Masai warriors with spears and bows and arrows (!!). If I emerged from tent at night the comforting glow of my oil lamp would reveal conversations, all was protected, safe and at peace.

It was astonishing, terrifying, incredible, electrifying, breathtaking and I loved every single second of it. I am buoyed up with happiness, floating as if I’ve got balloons inside.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Power of Putting it Off

Procrastination is something we are all prone to at one time or another. Case in point: I sat down to write this blog post thirty minutes ago. Before I finally got to writing, I first opened a bottle of wine, flipped through the latest issue of Monocle, and answered some emails.

In his review of the new book The Thief of Time – a collection of essays by writers, social scientists, and philosophers on the topic of procrastination – the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki explores some interesting aspects of this ubiquitous bad habit.

For instance, Surowiecki tells us that procrastination is “a powerful example of what the Greeks called akrasia—doing something against one’s own better judgment.”

In other words, procrastination is proof that our decisions are more emotional than they are rational. I often say that 80 percent of decisions are emotionally driven, and that’s exactly what happens when we put things off. We succumb to the emotional pull of delaying unpleasant activities like starting a new diet or visiting the dentist.

The Lovemarks approach actually uses this aspect of human decision-making to help create powerful, positive experiences. Clients too often retreat to campaigns that list the virtues of a product, and invite the consumer to perform cost-benefit analyses before making a purchase decision.

Inherent in the Lovemarks philosophy is the understanding that, even if the customer weighs the costs and benefits of a particular purchase – whether it’s a new car, a laptop computer or even a toothbrush – their decision will be driven by their gut. If this wasn’t the case, we’d never miss a dentist appointment or cheat on our diets.

It’s the reason that Lovemarks seeks to make products, brands, and services irresistible, not just irreplaceable. By making a product irresistible, you appeal to consumers on an emotional level. And, as Surowiecki’s article shows, reason leads to conclusions, but emotion leads to action.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Choosing Optimism

The writer Douglas Coupland, coiner of the phrase GenX, is an ominous kind of guy. In a reverse mirror image, he’s calling himself a “radical pessimist” against my school of “radical optimism.”

By radical I’m not just meaning extreme, but consciously applied, as per the Rules for Radicals classic by late veteran activist Saul Alinsky. Coupland’s school of radical pessimism has led him to create “A Radical Pessimist’s Guide to the Next 10 Years” which has just appeared in the Globe & Mail, and true to form, offers a bleak depiction of the coming decade.

Of the 45 “tips for survival in a messed-up future”, the first one is to recognize that “it’s going to get worse”; the last is that “we will accept the obvious truth that we brought this upon ourselves.” In between are a bunch of glass-half-empty insights and predictions such as “You're going to miss the 1990s more than you ever thought” (I don’t think so), “Hooking up will become ever more mechanical and binary” (I’m still cheering for romance), and “Dreams will get better” (this I can vote for).

Most of us are well aware that the future will be VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). But it’s easy to make that same assessment from the point of view of the optimist. I see the future as being vibrant, unreal, crazy, and astounding. When I think about the possibilities of the future, it raises my heart rate with excitement.

Ultimately, however, optimism is a choice. In my experience, it’s the correct choice. At numerous points throughout history, it was easy to make gloomy predictions about the future. Whether it was World War II, the bursting of the dot-com bubble, or the aftermath of 9/11.

And yet, time and again, we find ways of banding together, harnessing our creativity, and not just persevering but thriving. The challenges of the future will no doubt be novel, but they won’t be insurmountable. Whether it’s breakneck technological change, environmental sustainability, or economic turnarounds, these are issues that need to be met with radical optimism and the conviction that Nothing is Impossible.

Monday, October 25, 2010

From Green Bay to Broadway

Earlier this month, a new play based on one of my personal heroes, former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, premiered on Broadway. My first reaction to this news was utter surprise. It doesn’t seem like Vince’s life would lend itself easily to the Broadway stage.

But, as I began to think about it, I realized that his life really was the stuff of good theater. His no-nonsense determination to win, his endless ability to inspire, and his penchant for delivering pitch-perfect motivational wisdom are all characteristics that have the potential to create great theater. If nothing else, I'm sure the show is interesting.

I’m also eagerly awaiting HBO’s documentary on Vince, due out this December, and also a motion picture about Lombardi produced by ESPN films and starring Robert De Niro. It’s great to know that, even 40 years after his death, there’s no shortage of enthusiasm about this inspirational character.

Here’s a taste of vintage Lombardi:
"Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate."

"Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence."

"The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price."

"Football is like life - it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority."

"The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory. That's the essence of it."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mind the Boss

Gap Inc. recently received a lesson in the power of Lovemarks. Earlier this month, the clothing retailer unveiled a new version of its logo which ditched the classic all-caps blue box emblem that the company had used for over two decades. The company replaced it with a sleeker logo featuring helvetica typeface and a small floating blue square.

According to one Gap spokesperson, the redesign was intended to help shift Gap’s brand from “classic, American design, to modern, sexy, cool.” What Gap failed to realize, however, is that, like all Lovemarks, their brand doesn’t belong to them anymore; it belongs to consumers.

Only two days after the new logo was unveiled, popular outrage on Facebook was so intense that the company had to reconsider. At first, Gap responded by inviting fans to submit their own design suggestions (which sucked in 4,660 submissions from over 1,000 designers in five days). Soon after they announced that, for the time being, they’re sticking with their classic logo.

This is clear proof, as if anymore were needed, that in today’s Participation Economy the Consumer is Boss. If she doesn’t like something, she has more power than ever to make her voice heard and change things.

Gap failed to realize the strong emotional connection that its consumers have made with their company logo over the last twenty years. It wasn’t just a rabid Twitter flash mob that caused this change of heart by Gap, there seemed to be a genuine outpouring by fans who love their Gap just the way it is.

This incident, although seemingly negative, is actually good news for Gap; it’s uncovered a well of activism (and it seems, affection) for the company that Gap hadn't appreciated. New fans! Proof that the company occupies a special place in the hearts of customers.

Gap’s snap decision to nix the redesign plan shows some responsive listening. Their intuition about the new logo was somewhat astray, but like Tropicana, they did the right thing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Business of Sport

Earlier this month I spoke at the Leaders in Performance conference at Chelsea Football Club in London. James Worrall and team at Leaders in Football, who run the event, brought together coaches, managers, performance directors and other sport professionals for a one day conference. There were concurrent conferences for leaders in football, and leaders in sponsorship. In all, 1000 delegates from 40 countries representing 28 different sports.

Sport has grown to be a very big business, with PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimating annual global revenues for professional sport from gate takings, sponsorships and media rights to rise 3.8% a year from US$114 billion in 2009 to US$133 billion in 2013. It’s no wonder there are conferences about how to run a better sports organization (especially as a bunch of them are up to their eyes in debt).

A decade or so ago I co-authored Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Leading Sports Organizations. Five of the lessons we took from sport to business are:

  1. It all starts with Purpose and a Dream.
  2. It’s not about Team.
  3. It’s about The Last Detail.
  4. BFI’s.
  5. It’s not about Managers or Leaders.
At this year’s Leaders in Performance, I turned this idea on its head and offered some wisdom from the business arena that sport professionals could benefit from:
  1. Nail down Respect (essential at a time of debt bombs, matchfixing, ambush marketing, penalty dives, Tiger, manos de dios)
  2. Unleash the unreasonable power of creativity (ask the crazy questions “what if?” that create transformations)
  3. Inspire your own people first (give them Responsibility, Learning, Recognition, Joy)
  4. Make a real difference (the role of business is to make the world a better place).
The leaders, innovators, and executors within a sports organization are just as valuable to creating the inspiration and respect that people look to clubs like Chelsea (who have a real performance leader in Mike Forde) and the New York Yankees to provide.

As the world of professional sport continues to grow and gain more influence, it’s important for leaders to gather together, share valuable knowledge, and reaffirm their professional values. Looking around the room and seeing Johan Bruyneel, Gianluca Vialli, Arsène Wenger and many more was fun, and I even managed to talk some rugby with Brian Smith, and Martin Johnson.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Decal Décor

Star fullback for USA Rugby, Francois Viljoen, just told me about a new business his South African-born wife Mia launched earlier this month.

It seems Mia, a former Walt Disney Imagineer and stickler for good design, was struggling to find exciting ways to decorate her new daughter’s nursery. Most of what she found on the internet was bland and uninspiring.

Instead of settling, she set out to create her own line of colorful, well-designed wall décor. The result is her brand new venture, Pop & Lolli, which specializes in making “chic, oversized fabric stickers” that cover entire walls. It’s what she calls “experience design.”

The business has a sustainability angle: for every set of decals you purchase, (it’s) Chic 2 Change, the charity arm of Pop & Lolli, will provide educational materials and support to a South African child in need. I wish her luck.

If you’re a design junky who’s looking for a unique way to add flavor to a child’s room, you’re sure to find something fun and funky at Pop & Lolli.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dolletta and Daddy

More and more families are being re-invented. The typical mom and dad and three kids of the 50’s have been replaced by the most diverse variables imaginable. What doesn’t vary though is what makes any kind of family work; unconditional love and support, sacrifice, trust. Families are caring yes, but they are also demanding. And that is what makes them so special.

I’m blessed with a diverse and fun family. Rowena’s younger sister, Julie, has a couple of kids and one of them I was particularly close to when he was growing up. Despite him being a fanatical Liverpool football supporter and England rugby supporter, Stephen is a top man. Energetic, funny and a real contributor to the family. He has a beautiful young daughter, Tia, with his former partner.

Tia is the apple of his eye and they spend as much time together as they can. It isn’t easy entertaining an energetic young toddler and Steve was amazed to find relatively little written on the daddy/daughter dynamic. He’s never written anything in his life. He’s a good athlete and a skilled electrician. But, hey, nothing is impossible.

He’s just written a terrific little storybook called Dolletta and Daddy. It tells about Dolletta’s constant search for fun with Daddy and Daddy’s constant search for new ways to have fun. It’s a beautifully told story. Steve pretty much self published it thanks to the enabling power of modern technology. Check it out on Amazon or Waterstones.

I’m proud of the lad (or should I say Dad).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hagley Park; A New Lovemark

Last week I was in Christchurch for the Telecom New Zealand Annual General Meeting. It was great to see how the city and the people had got on with life following the recent earthquake. Cantabrians are resilient, community-minded and take no nonsense. They reminded me very much of New York City post September 11 (without the attitude!).

I stayed at a beautiful small hotel, The George, which I last visited seven or eight years ago when I flew with Princess Anne to Antarctica. The George is staffed by Kiwis and Europeans enjoying a break in New Zealand. The service is intimate, anticipatory, relaxed and friendly.

The hotel itself is on Hagley Park, which is one of the wonders of the world. With 165 hectares of trees and broad green fields, Hagley Park is the largest urban open space in all of Christchurch. Thankfully, when the government created it in 1855, they ordered that it be “reserved forever as a public park.”

I took a bike from the hotel each morning at around 7am and put in a few miles for an hour or so around the park. It’s incredible. The daffodils are out, the cherry-blossoms are out, and the people were still indoors. The park is an amazing thing to find in the middle of a city. It has lakes, woodlands, rugby pitches (it is New Zealand after all), a golf course!, tennis courts including half a dozen beautiful grass courts, mountain-bike paths and terrific areas for walking and exploring. There’s no better way to start the day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thoughts on Bob

What’s your favorite Bob Dylan album? The early Freewheelin’ album is hard to beat and a few months ago I managed to source an original edition of the front cover photo showing Bob and his girlfriend Suze Rotolo walking through the streets of downtown New York. This and Bringing It All Back Home are two early favorites.

Blood on the Tracks is hard to beat and the bootleg album of the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1975 is a favorite. I have recently been listening to Empire Burlesque which I think is a hidden gem and is worth looking at again. The writing’s cool, the melodies are strong and Bobby’s voice is intriguing. And "Tight Connection To My Heart" is right up there.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Investing in Genius

The MacArthur Foundation recently announced this year’s recipients of their “genius” grants. For those who don’t know, each year the MacArthur Foundation chooses 12 individuals “who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future” and award them each a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant which is dispersed quarterly over five years. They make their decisions based on applicants’ “breadth of experience, excellent judgment, and curiosity.” I can think of no better criteria.

I’m consistently impressed with the diversity of the group they select each year. This year is no different. The recipients include a type designer, a jazz pianist, a population geneticist, a quantum astrophysicist, a stone carver, and even a television writer.

What I find most inspirational about the MacArthur Fellowships, however, is the group’s innovative approach to dispersing money in a way that will make a difference. Instead of giving support to a specific cause, the members of the MacArthur Foundation go to great lengths to identify individuals who have the potential to change the world in exciting and unexpected ways.

Implicit in this method is the idea that we can’t predict what problems lay ahead; we can only make sure that those most suited to overcome the complex challenges of the future are well-equipped to do so.

If ideas are the currency of the future, then financing the leading ideas people of the present is a sound investment.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Age of the Acronym (TAOTA)

My life is full of acronyms. Whether it’s my DOT (Do One Thing) sustainability philosophy, my view that we live in a world that is deeply VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) or the RASCI management system we use at Saatchi & Saatchi (Responsible, Accountable, Supportive, Consulted, Informed).

More Intelligent Life, the Economist’s superb culture quarterly, recently published a shrewd examination of the role that acronyms play in the English-speaking world. It’s one of those articles (my personal favorite kind, in fact) that takes as its subject some unexamined part of our everyday lives.

Believe it or not, I’ve never thought all that much about acronyms, their significance and their history, before reading this piece. It’s true that they can be, at turns, efficient (RSVP) and annoying (OMG! BTW! NBD!). But, for me at least, they’re simply a useful tool for communicating a complex idea – or set of ideas – in a way that people will remember.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Do Many Things

On the issue of sustainability, I’ve adopted the “Do One Thing” strategy. Pick a practice that makes your life better and helps sustain the planet, and stick to it. This can be something as simple as riding your bicycle to work, watching less television, or purchasing energy-efficient light bulbs.

It’s a simple strategy, and, if executed properly, is followed quickly by “Do Another Thing.” In most instances, small changes in behavior can have a massive effect on the world.

I stand by this approach to sustainability, but sometimes you’ve got to shoot for the moon. I’m proud to say that that’s exactly what my friends at Procter & Gamble are doing.

P&G has just announced a sweeping and ambitious Sustainability Vision, which includes powering their plants entirely with renewable energy, using 100% recycled or renewable materials in all of their products, and having none of their waste end up in landfills.

What’s most inspiring about P&G’s sustainability efforts is that they extend far beyond the environment. Through a variety of initiatives aimed at providing food to hungry children around the U.S., increasing access to education in India, and helping Chinese school children adopt good hygiene habits, P&G is fulfilling their responsibility to improve lives and make the world a better place for everybody.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mingle and Swap

If you’ve got four minutes and want to have your mind blown, take a look at this entertaining (and educational) video from Steven Johnson, author of the book Where Good Ideas Come From, which was just released today. If the book is as good as the video, I’m sure you’ll be seeing more about it on this blog in the very near future. (And what is it about watching someone draw on a whiteboard that’s so hypnotic?!)

Johnson brings a fresh perspective to examining how breakthrough ideas are formed. Instead of focusing on the psychology of innovation, he asks why certain environments seem to produce more original and exciting ideas than others.

His conclusion: many of the best ideas come from the “collision of smaller hunches.” Environments that enable people to bring their inchoate ideas into contact with other people’s are where the magic happens.

This reminded me of something our Chief Creative Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi NY, Con Williamson, recently said about his creative management style. He described it as a “Big Italian Dinner.” Get a bunch of smart, creative people into a space where they can feel comfortable being loud and opinionated, and wait for breakthrough connections to form.

It works. If you look at history, the big bursts of creative thinking often happened in a comfortable public space. Johnson points to the coffee houses in the age of the enlightenment, or the Parisian salons of modernism. In both examples, these places offered creatives a venue where they could get out of their private space, discuss their ideas and collaborate.

As a CEO of an ideas company, it’s nice to be reminded that a big part of my job is to create the type of workplace environment where ideas can “mingle and swap” as Johnson puts it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Arrested for Good

I’m delighted to announce that Andrew Jarman, the current Headmaster at my alma mater Lancaster Royal Grammar School, was recently arrested. The authorities came to the school, handcuffed him, and hauled him off to a jail cell.

Why am I so delighted? Let me explain. The “arrest” was part of an inspired fundraiser for the group CancerCare, a UK charity devoted to helping those whose lives have been affected by cancer.

To raise funds for this worthy group, a number of local figures, including Andrew, volunteered to be “arrested.” Once they got to prison, they were allowed to contact friends, family and colleagues who could then donate bail money. The bail money, of course, went to the charity.

The school capitalized on the spectacle to motivate students to get involved with CancerCare. In order for Andrew to be released, the students had to agree to make CancerCare part of the school’s Lent Term charity effort. On top of that, the school held a non-uniform day to help raise even more money for the charity.

The stunt was a success. It significantly raised awareness of CancerCare and the work they do, while also giving Lancaster student a memorable lesson in the importance of charity and self-sacrifice. LRGS raised £5,000 for the cause. Well done!

Meanwhile, the boys at LRGS got to see their headmaster taken in by the authorities (a dream for any grammar school student, I’m sure!).

This was a surprising example how intimacy, mystery, and – in this case -- humanity can be combined to create entertaining initiatives that make the world a better place.