Monday, October 31, 2011

Absence Defines Presence

The Zen of Steve Jobs from the Wall Street Journal blogger Steve Yang offering insights into the genius Apple co-creator and CEO of the world’s second most valued company (and for some moments #1). The key theme is that much of Jobs’ brilliance, and the beauty of Apple’s creations under his inspired leadership, can be traced back to the influence of Zen Buddhism and in particular an emphasis on absence defining presence.

As well as introducing inspired new features that we never knew we wanted (but found we instantly loved), a hallmark of Apple products is the absence of things we don’t need. For example, Apple was ahead of its time as the first to do away with the floppy disk drive from its computers. The keyboard has since followed, surpassed by the effortlessness of touch. A focus on elegant simplicity is another Zen-related concept revealed powerfully in Apple’s products. Clean lines, smooth surfaces, no distractions, just intuitive interfaces and thoughtful touches.

‘Eliminate’ has been an e-word close to my mind, as a call to make the main thing the main thing. When it came to eliminating the unnecessary to unleash his world-changing devices, Steve Jobs was a Zen Master.

When times are tight, it’s important to realise that elimination is about focus and value, not cutting for cutting’s sake. It’s about defining what you are by what you choose not to be, and creating space for new things to grow. Stop. What needs to go to make your product, your business, your life better?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rookies to Rugby Pros

USA Rugby Vice-Chairman, Bob Latham, author of the forthcoming book "Winners & Losers", accepted the International Rugby Board Development Award for 2011 for the USA Rookie Rugby youth program at the star-studded IRB Awards Ceremony on Sunday October 23 in Auckland. Here’s Bob’s account of the program and a great night out with the world’s rugby community.
In his best-selling and insightful book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell concluded that it takes somewhere around 10,000 hours of training and playing a sport to really have a chance of mastering it. That’s one of the reasons that Americans have found it so difficult historically to be competitive on the world stage in sports such as soccer and rugby – our players arrive late to these sports, sometimes in their teens, many picking up a rugby ball for the first time at university. They may be great athletes but when the real pressure comes, they don’t have 10,000 hours of developing their skills to rely upon. Meanwhile, the All Blacks, France, South Africa, England and others are successful at rugby because their players start playing at six years old. And when they reach the age at which Americans have just started to pick up the sport, they are complete players, ready to compete for positions on World Cup squads. In America, our young kids pick up a basketball, a football or a baseball when they are children and the 10,000 hour clock starts ticking.

The inroads that soccer has made in the last generation, well before Gladwell’s theory, started allowing young players to get their 10,000 hours of work and therefore the U.S. has become increasingly competitive against traditional soccer nations such as Argentina, Brazil, England and Germany, though the men still have a way to go to win the first World Cup and the women are being challenged by the rise of other nations as they were by Japan this year. However, with the institution of USA Rugby’s Rookie Rugby program, a non-contact version of the game that was introduced in 2008, we are starting to give young players a chance to get at least somewhere close to 10,000 hours. The program is an introduction to the game for boys and girls aged 6-10 years; it’s easy to coach, fun to play and promotes not only rugby skills but health, fitness, team spirit, loyalty and respect – the hallmarks of rugby around the world. The timing of the rollout of USA Rugby’s Rookie Rugby program was fortuitous, as it preceded by only one year rugby’s inclusion into the Olympics, which resulted in athletic directors and community sports administrators having a greater interest in rugby. The confluence of these two events means that in 2011, over 500,000 young players will be picking up a rugby ball and running with it for the first time in schools, boys and girls clubs, state-based rugby organizations and YMCA’s across America.

It was therefore an incredible thrill for everyone involved with USA Rugby, and particularly those involved with the Rookie Rugby program, that the program was recognized in a huge way by the International Rugby Board. This last week, the night after the Rugby World Cup final in Auckland, New Zealand, the annual International Rugby Board Awards Gala Dinner was held. The dinner, especially in a World Cup year, draws all of the good and the great in the global game and it features the presentation of twelve awards, including “team of the year” which naturally went to the All Blacks, “player of the year,” which went to France’s valiant Thierry Dusautoir, and “sevens player of the year” which went to South Africa’s dynamic Cecil Afrika. Among such great rugby company, the IRB Development Award went to USA Rugby’s Rookie Rugby program.

IRB Awards Rookie Rugby Video (1:40 mins)

Judging by the reception in the room, it was a popular choice. It is clear that the global rugby family wants USA Rugby to succeed and the reaction after the announcement of the award was supportive and positive.

The night itself provided some exhilarating moments. The first crowd pleaser was when All Blacks’ captain Richie McCaw walked down the center isle of the black tie dinner for 1200, carrying the William Webb Ellis trophy. It might be suggested that he resembled a bride at a wedding with flash bulbs popping in every direction, but he carried himself more like someone bringing in the haggis at a Scottish banquet.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening immediately followed the presentation of the IRB Development Award to USA Rugby when the Vernon Pugh Award for Distinguished Service was presented to an ailing Jock Hobbs, former All Blacks captain and former Chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union, who was largely responsible for getting the World Cup in New Zealand. Seeing Jock at so many of the World Cup matches and events was an inspiration to all. The spirit of the room was carried back to the bar at the Sky City Grand Hotel where current New Zealand Rugby Chairman and All Black great Bryan Williams led a sing-a-long with his guitar up to, and through, last call.

That USA Rugby was recognized by and among such company is a tribute to all the dedicated staff at USA Rugby and the support they have received from coaches, teachers and parents across the country in making the Rookie Rugby program a success. We owe them all a great deal of thanks for their support. Winning the Rugby World Cup may still be a ways away, but at least the 10,000 hour clock is ticking.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

KR Connecting

A nice way to finish the week - Chief Executive magazine from New York has named this missive among its Top 10 CEO blogs. KRConnect has been going for five years now, covering whatever comes to mind, falls across my path, or is close to my heart. A rough count makes this post 1,046.

Also on the list are Forrester Research CEO George Colony “The Counterintuitive CEO”, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer - check Tom’s post ‘English Football, President Sarkozy and the Arab Spring’ - on freedom of expression; you couldn’t want a better go-to on this than the head of a global news agency. Thanks for reading… KR

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lessons From Polak

The role of business is to make the world a better place. And Dr. Paul Polak knows it. For three decades he has devoted his life to improving the lives of people who live on less than $2 a day, but rather than giving stuff away his focus has been on selling groundbreaking equipment to those who need it most.

The New York Times ran a great interview with Polak last month. The story goes that he first got involved with a group of Mennonites providing rower pumps to provide water for irrigation in impoverished areas in Bangladesh. They’d given away 2,000. Polak’s idea was to sell 25,000. Which they did. Then he found the treadle pump, a simple but brilliant step up the technology chain. Polak and co set up manufacturers, distributors, rolled out a marketing campaign, complete with Bollywood movie. Two million units later and the rest is history.

Here are the keys to Polak’s success, both as businessman and social entrepreneur: Empathy – born and raised in peasant Czechoslovakia, he knew poverty and he knew his market;
• “an eye for the obvious” – in 1938 his father saw the signs of coming disaster early, and moved the Jewish family to Canada, escaping the holocaust;
• an entrepreneurial streak – Polak was putting his own money to work long before he turned to the rest of the world;
• and – most important – a conviction that the customer knows best.

In 1981 Polak made a promise to interview 100 $1-a-day families every year and learn from them first. He’s kept this promise for 28 years, personally interviewing over 3,000 families.

He sums up: Any businessman knows this – you’ve got to talk to your customers.

That’s good medicine, doc.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Man Of The Moment

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” has become a bit of a hackneyed phrase over the last few weeks as a succession of All Black first fives have found themselves unexpectedly taking the pitch at the Rugby World Cup, as the first, then second, then third choice pivots for the men in black succumbed to painful groin and knee injuries. But in the case of Stephen Donald, it’s a statement worth pausing on for a moment. The salient lesson from Donald’s cool slotting of the winning penalty kick in the World Cup final is that when you give people a second chance they so often come back stronger and hungrier than they were before, wiser and better for the experience. Such was the case for Donald, who was widely written-off after he played a key role in the All Blacks’ loss to the Wallabies in Hong Kong last year, but rose to the occasion on Sunday night. Past adversity and experience made him the man for the moment. Graham Henry is another case study in the power of a second chance. The “Great Redeemer” was given a reprieve after the Cardiff disaster four years ago, and has now won the ultimate redemption of his own: The Webb Ellis Cup come home at last.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Black and Blue

Wow. Following my health scare on Thursday, everything turned around on Sunday. The All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup in a titanic struggle against France at Eden Park ending a 24 year drought. And Manchester City went to Old Trafford and smashed Manchester United 6-1. What a day.

Sport is so much part of life and has been for 2,000 years. I’m not a big fan of individual sports but I’m hooked by the drama and passion of team sport. Both these games demonstrated massive commitment, spirit and skills from my lifetime obsessions – the All Blacks and Manchester City. In both cases, terrific individual performances were overshadowed by outstanding team performances. Today was a great day to be alive (especially as I can remember it all!).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Globally Transient

I was with Kevin during his keynote presentation to the Thrive conference in Auckland New Zealand when near the end of his speech he became literally lost for words (ironically on the section “Eliminate” from Blue Oceans). The first sign something was wrong was that he had been sticking straight to the script. He came off stage, speech unfinished, and went to Auckland Hospital for tests and scans. The doctors ruled out anything serious and diagnosed a condition called transient global amnesia – a very short term condition in which the person has no recall of immediate and recent events (he was delighted to be told that the All Blacks were in the Rugby World Cup final, so much so that the news had to be repeated every 10 minutes). The Mayo Clinic describe the condition as “rare, seemingly harmless, and unlikely to happen again." Kevin stayed overnight in hospital, I visited him this morning and his recall is back to peak condition but for the hour or so after the incident. I suspect he will categorize this as on-the-field concussion.

Kevin sends his thanks for best wishes sent. He was able to laugh at an interaction that happened soon after he took ill. Medics had been called and a couple of very competent chaps appeared quickly in the theater green room. One of them got right into it with the “follow my finger with your eyes” and “count 1-10 and then backwards” routine. Something twigged in the other medic who asked “Mate are you medically qualified?” to which medic #1 replied “no but my girlfriend is a nurse and I’ve seen her do this!” Only in multi-tasking give-it-a-go NZ.

Brian Sweeney, Chairman, SweeneyVesty

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Ever wondered what inspires the creative souls at the 140 Saatchi & Saatchi offices around the globe? Now you can find out.

SaatchiNOW is a new online resource that lets you tap the most exciting and new projects from Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide. It’s current and connected, with live feeds, inspirational ideas, tweets, blogs, photos and video.

We’re sharing more of our ideas online now than ever before. SaatchiNOW is the ultimate aggregator, bringing our collective inspiration into a single creative hub. We’re stoked with how interactive the site is and we’re looking forward to sharing a wealth of ideas with you over the coming months.

Albert Einstein once said “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.”
We’ve got the bug.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shape Shifters

SmartMoney magazine has come out with the masters of our destiny, the gods of the U.S. (and global) economy. It’s the annual “Power 30: The World’s Most Influential Players”. On planet VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous), this list of shapers could be considered essential scanning.

With the variation in roles and agendas in the list, it’s small wonder the ground we stand on is always shifting. Here we encounter:

a rookie regulator,a super policy wonk,
a bank captain, America’s hirer-in-chief,
a mutual fund king, a pro-networker,
a money manager, an auto chief,
a stock cop, a whirling governor,
a standard setter,the Gagapreneur,
a commodities guru, an innovator-in-chief,
a hypnotic metal, a mega-broker,
a go-to justice, the Google guy,
currency traders,the transporter,
an economy accelerator, the chancellor,
bond vigilantes,the money chief,
retirement plan raters,the re-constructor,
boomers and their tactician,and the bond amassers.
an insolvency solver,

Welcome to the Kentucky Derby. Bets please!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dream Machine

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is on a crusade to free commerce and leave consumers lighter in the pocket – in a good way. His new company Square is making it easier to do business and almost needless to carry cash with a new device that turns smartphones and iPads into credit card terminals.

It’s a plug and play setup that lets entrepreneurs get started anywhere, without the need to rent credit card processing equipment. Over 750,000 companies in the US already use Square and it’s only been going for a year.

In tough economic times anything that stimulates and liberates commerce has to be a good thing. Need a new challenge? Why not supercharge your iPhone and kick-start your dream business? For inspiration, check out this article on seven mega-companies that started in garages. Then go make something happen.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Winning Matters

We’re coming down to the sharp end of the Rugby World Cup. Semi-Final weekend. Last night we had a wonderful party at my place in Auckland where we hosted friends, Saatchi & Saatchi clients and rugby folk. 100 of us spent the evening together talking about friendship, passion, commitment and winning. A bunch of great winners including Sean Fitzpatrick, Lawrence Dallaglio, Murray Mexted, Andrew Mehrtens, John Kirwan, Inga Tuigamala and Gavin Hastings shared their thoughts on the upcoming weekend, the World Cup so far and what it takes to win. This is really top of mind for me at the moment of course with the Rugby going on and also given the need for all of us to restart the economy through growth, innovation and pushing forward with that great winning attitude so brilliantly captured by America’s Coach of the Century, Vince Lombardi.

A year or so ago, Sean Fitzpatrick and I were talking about this subject and Sean was sharing a number of thoughts he had developed over his career in Rugby as All Black Captain and in business subsequently. He epitomised Winning. A few weeks back, he published a new book called “Winning Matters; Being The Best You Can Be” and it’s been selling truckloads especially during Rugby World Cup. It’s a great book. It’s written for every man (and woman!). It takes all the complexity and mystique out of it. It’s honest, conversational, simple to understand and relevant to life, business and sport. You should take a look.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pop-up Parks

Everybody likes a park. Lots of small parks throughout a city are even better.

In San Francisco’s Mission District a program called Pavement to Parks temporarily reclaims under-utilized roadways and transforms them into pop-up mini parks. The program is designed to inspire creativity and be good for the environment – all mini parks must be inexpensive to create and where possible use recyclable materials.

The latest addition to Pavement to Parks is this installation by artist Erik Otto, who used stuff he found at the city landfill in his park design. The park includes a house on a hillside and beanbags and planters all made from recycled materials.

There’s a bigger idea here too. The mini parks are intended to help people think about what sorts of long-term changes could or should be made to each space. Being able to touch and experience the park in real life lets town planners get valuable feedback from residents on what elements work and what they like. It’s consultation by participation, using revelation rather than information to create better communities.

On top of all that, I just like the idea that someone saw a park for cars and wondered why it couldn’t be the other kind. City planning with imagination. Nice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Winning The Away Game

As we get down to the business end of the Rugby World Cup it feels like the right time to talk commerce – to look past the sight of the rim of the Webb Ellis trophy and ask what’s next for New Zealand. The tournament has been an opportunity for New Zealand businesses to make an impression on the world, show their vitality and grow their connectivity (NZ 4G factor = Grit, Guts, Genius, and Geniality). To achieve long-term success most of our companies will need to make their mark internationally. The global field of commerce is the ultimate “away game” where winning needs to be a national habit.

On Tuesday 18 October – the week before the World Cup final – I’ll be chairing a high-powered forum on all of this at the University of Auckland Business School. We’ll get down to brass tacks on how New Zealand companies can take on the world with seven minute presentations by four outstanding speakers, sharing insights from the worlds of professional sport and business. Here’s the line-up:

Dr Kerry Spackman, neuroscientist and author of “The Winner’s Bible”, mentor to leading Formula One and New Zealand sports teams and winner of the 2010 World Class New Zealand Award for New Thinking
Professor George Foster, Stanford Graduate School of Business, a specialist in high growth global companies, author of “The Business of Sports”, advisor to start-up companies and sports organisations
Murray Mexted is the founder and Managing Director of the International Rugby Academy, a former All Black Number 8 and National Sevens Selector, and a renowned television commentator and rugby analyst for Sky Television
Dr Farah Palmer former captain of the Black Ferns – New Zealand Women’s Rugby Team when they won win three consecutive World Championships (1998, 2002 and 2006), and a lecturer at Massey University specialising in Maori and gender issues in sport.

If you’re in Auckland for the World Cup final (and you should be!) put this one in your diary. Better yet, register here to be sure of a space. If you’re passionate about New Zealand business this is a must. See you there.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Winning in Waiohiki

Last Thursday night a group of passionate people in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay settled in for an unforgettable evening of music, song, laughter, food, fine wine and the chance to buy some fantastic art for a great cause. The fifth annual Waiohiki Charity Art Auction kicked into full swing, with proceeds going towards the development of a 21st century marae complex, a vibrant community and cultural center located in Waiohiki. Driving it all behind the scenes and in front was Denis O’Reilly, creative and cultural dynamo.

The marae project has some heavyweight local support and the auction was an all-star event. Power vocalist and personality Frankie Stevens welcomed with a warm rendition of New York, New York (with a good measure of ‘Hawkes Bay, Hawkes Bay’ thrown in). Baritone Wiremu Winetana was a smooth opera-teur as MC for the evening, and Napier MP Chris Tremain was a brilliant auctioneer. Leading lights in attendance included Jenny McIlroy, Chairperson of the Waiohiki Marae Trustees, Mayor of Hastings Lawrence Yule, councillors from near and far, and many local kaumatua (elders), as well as supporting businesses from far afield. I was due to be the guest of honor but business called me to New York and my wife Rowena (above left, with Pauline Tangiora and Denis) attended as my representative. What followed was an unqualified success, with the event raising $95,000 for the marae complex.

I’ve known Denis O’Reilly for a long time. He’s an irresistible force of nature. He makes things happen. Putting a community centre together is a great idea – it will be a source of inspiration for generations to come. The art auction was a great way to lay one of the foundation stones; so again best wishes to Denis and the team behind the Waihoiki marae complex, and good on you to everyone who opened their hearts – and their wallets.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Decisions, decisions

The New York Times ran an interesting essay last month on a phenomenon called ‘decision fatigue’. It centered around a study which showed that a parole board was more likely to grant parole early in the day when the board was fresh or shortly after a break. The reason being that making decisions all day simply wears you out to a point where it’s easier not to make a decision at all or to go with the least risky option – in this case, not granting parole.

Other experiments found that when buying customized suits, computers or expensive cars, after a certain point people would invariably go with the default option when presented with yet another choice. But decision fatigue dissipated or was reversed with a shot of glucose. So maybe you should stock up on chocolate bars next time you have a big call to make.

Sugar-hits aside, decision fatigue reinforces the imperative for brands to engage with hearts rather than minds. And to anticipate, surprise and delight with thoughtful touches rather than customizing to death. Sure I like choice and the chance to personalize a new product. But more than anything I want you to show that you know me and you care.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power Of A Mistake

When I started my career at Mary Quant in the 60s I was schooled in the fail fast, learn fast, fix fast, mantra. Lines went from conception to launch to discontinuation at lightning speed; it was a great place to discover the power of a mistake as a way of learning and improving.

In a similar vein Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman says he learns more about the human mind when it makes mistakes than he does when everything is working perfectly. Kahneman has been studying intuitive thinking for 40 years, and said this at the start of a recent master class on the science of human nature:

If you want to characterize how something is done, then one of the most powerful ways of characterizing the way the mind does anything is by looking at the errors that the mind produces while it's doing it because the errors tell you what it is doing. Correct performance tells you much less about the procedure than the errors do.

We focused on errors. We became completely identified with the idea that people are generally wrong. We became like prophets of irrationality. We demonstrated that people are not rational.

In psychology and life mistakes are powerful levers for discovery and future success. For Kahneman they are the key to understanding human nature. In business today’s mis-steps are tomorrow’s side-steps, making us more agile, dangerous and competitive. If you’re not making mistakes and learning you’re missing something big. So fail fast, learn fast, fix fast.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Sound transformed movies in the 1920s and sparked a golden age for Hollywood. Now it’s putting the ‘SO’ of SISOMO (Sight, Sound, Motion) into e-books, mashing together the joy of reading with the emotional pulling power of sound. This is thanks to a new venture called Booktrack, the brainchild of New Zealand brothers Mark and Paul Cameron, which adds soundtracks to stories, intensifying the reading experience by multiplying imagination and emotion. Booktrack supplies both moving music and ambient sound, artfully introduced and shifting mood at the right time based on your reading speed.

Great books are already irresistible; this feels like it could take reading to another place, with the right balance of suggestive sound and the power of the mind. I’m interested in the creative response – will authors work more “aural imagery” into their writing? Will favorite e-book composers emerge? Will consumers create their own soundtracks for titles close to their hearts and share them with their friends? Let’s hope Booktrack turns a new leaf for e-books.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Alpha Beta Better?

Back in school I was captain of soccer and cricket, and throughout my career, I’ve assumed the leadership position in any team automatically, whether appointed or not. As you’d expect this can quickly lead to face offs or head butts to decide who’s top monkey.

The scientific question as to whether or not this tendency is a healthy trait is getting answers. Enter this piece Are Alpha Males Healthy? which discusses a new study (on wild baboons, naturally) indicating that betas have one over the alphas health-wise due to less stress. The good news for alphas is that the risks can be managed. Studies also show that being at the bottom of the social hierarchy is more stressful than being at the top.

Take the Masters of the Universe test in the article, and decide where you sit. Two footnotes: 1. ESPN Coach of the Century Vince Lombardi said: “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” 2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is playing at a theater near you.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Now is the Time

Dan Carter, the All Blacks' playmaker and the world's #1 player, is out of the Rugby World Cup. He tore his groin muscle in the Captains training run on Saturday. He was due to captain New Zealand on Sunday; instead he's crocked. The AB's were sailing serenely forwards, playing great rugby and doing most things right. Now it's all up for grabs.

Now's the time for the rest of the team to stand up, to make a difference, and to look adversity in the eye and face it down. Now's the time for Piri Weepu to stamp his name or the world stage.

Now's the time for all the All Black coaches and players to win without Dan.

Now's the time for all of us to believe and back Black.

As Vince Lombardi said, "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit."

We've got into that habit. 4 games, 4 wins. 3 to go.

We live for moments like this.

Kia Kaha.