Friday, June 29, 2012

Surviving the Future in the Age of Now

There’s something about the future that makes people shudder. It’s daunting, unpredictable and coming at us at warp speed. But no one can fight the future. By debating the small stuff and defending your business views against competitors, you are simply delaying the inevitable.

For a company to succeed in the weeks, months and years ahead, it needs to be agile and led by a management team that can adapt to changes in the marketplace with lightening speed.

In their book, Repeatability, James Allen and Chris Zook think the trick is developing efficient and repeatable feedback channels. Listen to your customers every single day and quickly incorporate their feedback into your frontline strategy.

Just look at Amazon – they track around 500 metrics every single day to gauge customer experience, right down to the millisecond. Did you know that as little as a 0.1 second delay in loading a webpage causes a 1% decline in activity? Amazon does. They know what’s working, what isn’t, what their customers love and what bugs them.

Here are three ideas from James and Chris to help get you started:
  1. Focus on what makes your business unique. What makes you stand out from your competitors? Set systems in place to make sure this differentiation is noticed by customers every single day.

  2. Make this point of difference part of everyday life. Work with frontline staff to create a set of non-negotiable principles that embody your strategy and inform every decision.

  3. Ensure the company is agile. Don’t get set in your ways – the most successful businesses are those that respond to changes in their environment and make it work for them.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Do You Want a Wantologist?

Many of us have outsourced parts of our lives and hired someone to do the jobs we don’t want to do, or don’t have time to tackle. Domestic cleaning to child-minding to dog-walking to synching all your digital devices and wedding planning (see The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times by Arlie Russell Hochschild).

But what if you could hire someone to figure out what you wanted from life? We all want to feel satisfied and happy in our lives and much of this comes from the emotional connection with being purposeful. Where it gets tricky is that a lot of people don’t know how to get to that happy place.

This is where a wantologist comes in handy. Growing in popularity in the U.S., wantologists help people to decide what is really important to them. They help you discover your purpose and send you on your way.

Purpose and directions are not things I have been short on in my life, and while I love of inspire people through mentoring and presentations, I’m drawing the line at the terminology of “wantologist”. Perhaps these people need to see a “nameologist”.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Taste of Emotion

Ever wonder what sorrow tastes like? How about happiness, anger or even a sneeze?

The people at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies of London have created a unique range of seasoning salts collected from none other than human tears. There are five varieties of salt available in the collection, which the company explains have been harvested from humans experiencing all kinds of emotions in various situations (laughing, sneezing, anger, sorrow and, of course, chopping onions). Each of the five salts have a distinctly different flavor - who’d have thought sorrow tastes of delicate lavender?

You better believe it. The folk at the Ministry of Stories have concocted a brace of other tastes that will have sensualists rolling in their tablecloths.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Be Fearless

I am a big believer that having the focus to see beyond your fears can instigate change. When you take risks, embrace the unknown, and ‘go for it’, that is often when you get the breakthrough you’ve been looking for.

AOL founder Steve Case and his wife Jean established the Case Foundation to leverage new technologies that will make the world a better place. They recently launched Be Fearless a campaign that encourages people to take a step forward in their efforts to create lasting social change in their communities. Their mantra is “Take Risks. Be Bold. Fail Forward.”

Jean Case recently outlined 5 key values that help develop a fearless mindset. I suggest you read it. We need more changemakers on this planet.
  • Make big bets – and make history
    History suggests that the most significant cultural transformations occur when one or more people simply decide to try and make big change.

  • Experiment early and often
    Experience shows us that we need to keep looking around the corner to find the next good idea—because today's iPhone is tomorrow's Walkman.

  • Make failure matter
    Every great innovator has experienced moments of failure, but the truly great among them wear those failures as badges of honor.

  • Reach beyond your bubble
    Collaboration provides new ideas and innovations, as well as “air cover” when sharing risk.

  • Let urgency conquer fear
    Don’t overthink and overanalyze every decision, take a calculated risk and go for it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

In Your Dreams

Themed hotels have been around for a long time but are having a resurgence. In the 90’s they were called ‘art hotels’ and each room would have a unique design so that every guest would have a different experience. Some felt like drifting into a wonderful dream. Others were just nightmares.  One of my favorites is the Hotel Zaza in Dallas. They have concept suits designed around the Moulin Rouge, Out of Africa, and the East Indies. And my favorite, the Texas suite, complete with longhorns and a saddle to ride!!!

While people were once happy to have their expectations met, the market for unique brand experiences is growing at speed. Commoditization and masstige has only increased the desire for brands that go beyond expectations. People want ideas that wow - and are willing to pay good money for it.

Themed hotels use the power of storytelling and inspire guests by turning myths and legends into reality. You can live the dream for the duration of your stay, and be somewhere you thought impossible (in history, or in a movie). You can see it, smell it, taste it, and the hotel itself becomes the destination.

If you happen to be in Boston, go visit the The Liberty Hotel. It used to be a prison and still retains its penitentiary influence, but a $150 million refurbishment has transformed it into place you won’t ever want to leave. The Hard Days Night Hotel in Liverpool is completely inspired by The Beatles, and even larger hotel chains have created services to meet demand. At the Radisson in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, you can choose from one of 20 luxury fantasy suites. You can sleep in a ‘prehistoric cave’ or go ‘leather and lace’. Whatever your heart desires.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Making Luxury Irresistible Blue

Travel isn’t great for the environment, so it is good that hotels are now providing more ways for travelers to offset and minimize their impact.  (People are natural explorers. Just because it’s far away doesn’t mean we’re going to stop seeing it.) The average hotel produces about one kilo of waste per guest per day, and about half of this waste can be recycled. It’s quickly becoming standard practice to do doing things like use energy-efficient light bulbs and cut back on plastics, but to be 100% sustainable is serious business.

Sustainability requires strategic thinking, courage and resourcefulness. Luxury gets a bad rap for being wasteful so I am proud to say that luxury hotels are actually one market that is at the forefront of transforming their industry into being Irresistible Blue. And it’s catching on. As more consumers demand sustainability, more hotels will be changing for good. In India, luxury hotels are focusing on energy and water conservation. Now consider that there were 500 hotels and 90,000 rooms developed in India in 2011 alone.

Three eco-luxe hotels that possess seriously True Blue credentials are: Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa (Australia), Laguna Lodge (Guatemala), The Scarlet (UK). These hotels use renewable energy, support local procurement to reduce food miles, are involved in flora and fauna preservation and are strongly involved with their local communities. One of my favorites in Grasmere is Moss Grove Organic. It's got the planet at heart, right down to its natural-ink wallpapers and reclaimed timber beds. It’s a business proposition that attracts a global clientele whilst protecting the local market. And you get a priceless experience as a result. If that’s not good, I don’t know what is.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Staying With Local Heroes

It’s a global village out there. Whether in New York or Mumbai, London or Bangkok, people are being exposed to the same news, music, movies, and products regardless of geography. Brands no longer think about reaching the 1000 mile radius. They aspire to be world famous.

Our increasingly globalize culture has sparked a counter change in behavior. People who travel further and explore more of the world are choosing local, unique experiences over the Hiltons and Big Macs. They shop at street markets, enjoy food at local restaurants and stay at independently run hotels.

This is a win-win. Local hotels are pushing back against standardized accommodation by becoming hyperlocal – making the destination a point of differentiation. Travelers get a more authentic experience of the areas they visit while supporting local businesses. Interest in local culture leads to appreciation which leads to celebration. Why travel half-way around the world to eat a meal you could get around the corner? Why sleep in a bedroom that makes you feel like you could be anywhere?

There are many local hotels that grow their own food and promote regional industry. If you happen to stay at the MONA Pavilions in Hobart, Australia, they have a vineyard o- site. At Ceylon Tea Trails in Sri Lanka, they use locally grown tea in just about anything. If you happen to be on the West Coast (USA), visit Shutters on the Beach. It's in the vicinity of LAX and Disneyland, but you would never know it. The Cape Cod inspired beach house of a hotel is right on the sands of Santa Monica and epitomizes the laidback lifestyle that is California. A beautiful getaway. Great service with a touch of old Hollywood glamour.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Boutique on a Budget

I spend 270 days per year on the road. Hotels are a big part of my life… I’m nuts over the Bulgari in Milan (and now London) and Bali, all Orient Express eclectic collection, Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, The Emiliano in São Paulo, Rocco Forte’s Collection, the De L’Europe in Amsterdam and the Ritz-Carlton amazing customer love affair.

My next 4 posts will all be about some new thoughts on hotels – so if you are a luxury vagabond – in reality or in spirit, this week’s for you.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”. It suggests that a person can become an expert at something simply by having spent 10,000 hours practicing it. I guess this means I’m an expert on hotels as I’ve spent tens of thousands of hours in hotel rooms over the course of my career. It could be Dallas one day, Dubai the next. When you’re miles away from home, you pay attention to the details. Does it feel like home is the question that counts.

One trend I’ve noticed is that more hotels are offering luxury on a budget. With economic uncertainty tightening purse strings, one of the first things to get crossed off the list is luxury holidays. Consider that a hotel room costs less in 2009 than 2004. Hotel occupancy in the US dropped to 55.2% (2009) from a peak of 63.3%. The market is now showing signs of improvement, but the decline in spending has shaken hoteliers and forced them to re-think ways of capturing audience.

People never willingly choose poor service and bad experiences. They may want to pay less and do without the bells and whistles, but they still want quality. People want to feel like valued customers. They want to be surprised, and they sure want the Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy they deserve.

Here’s where boutique budget hotels have filled a niche. They don't compromise customer standards or expectations but are smart with design and service so that rates remain affordable. As for any hotel, a good boutique budget hotel always considers style, service and scale. It takes a lot of creativity and attention to detail to make $200 feel like $2000, but brands in this market are up to the challenge.

Some bold winners are Be Manos in Brussels (best described as "Sixties Soho"), the five-bedroom Château La Thuilière in Dordogne, France (outfitted with Philippe Starck and Mies Van der Rohe), and the Ace Hotel in New York where room sizes also come in Bunk and Mini. Give them a go.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Resilience Key to Progressing Sustainable Development

Helen Clark is a former three term Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Chair of the United Nations Development Group which has no less of a goal than the eradication of extreme poverty around the world. She knows a thing or two about resilience. She believes that resilience can answer some of the challenges facing the world as we deal with rapidly increasing populations, competition for resources and socio-economic inequalities. In a recent China Daily article Helen outlined why resilience needs to be at the heart of development.

Learning from past events
Building resilience allows communities to succeed in times of adversity because it draws on the strengths of individuals and institutions to lessen the impact of shock and to learn from the experience in order to avoid a similar situation in the future. An example of this is the Aceh earthquake in 2012 where there was a completely different response to the event compared to the disastrous 2004 earthquake in the same area, resulting in no casulaties.

Stronger, fairer societies function better
Resilient societies enable people to feel included and are encouraged to work together. This coupled with the framework of governance provided by institutions, helps to protect the most vulnerable in our societies. A sense of belonging and having ownership in something is key to creating resilience.

Driver of innovation and learning
To be resilient people, communities and nations need to look at things differently and this fosters innovation, learning and strategic thinking. Building resilience is a transformative process and in order to reduce some of the challenges we face there needs to be a commitment to protect the integrity of the world we live in – people, institutions, the environment.

Resilience is about giving people the tools to cope with change, to act when necessary, and to be able to confront the political, societal and environmental challenges we are facing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Goal is Social

Consider that English Premier League clubs have almost 60 million Facebook ‘Likes’ when England's total population is just over 50 million. Now that’s a lot of football fans. My Lovemark, reigning champions Manchester City, have more than 2.9 million ‘Likes’ on their official Facebook page. The team has been ranked the second most digitally connected sports brand in the world by Activ8Social and the sixteenth most social brand in the UK.

My youngest son Dan has spent the last year or so at the Etihad working on connecting City to today’s youth in Manchester and around the world. He’s worked with a bunch committed go-getters who are trying new ideas everyday.

Today, most brands are trying to find their feet in the digital space, but I reckon that Man City have scored a winning formula. They get that winning in the Age of Now doesn’t come through the command and control model of ‘strategize, process and persuade’. Instead of pumping markets with stats and data, to connect with audiences they get that brands need to create movements that inspire people to join them.

There is no new, there is only NOW. And at Man City NOW involves spotting avatars of players like Mario Balotelli at Etihad stadium, and learning where the best place to watch an away game on Foursquare. It’s picking up virtual badges and discounts when you’re on location, watching games on YouTube and using augmented reality for a hyper-real experience when you just can’t be there in person. It’s getting into the stadium and seeing your tweets on screen.

Man City is more than a sports team. It’s a global entertainment brand. Its supporters are more than ticketholders and fans; they wear their passion and loyalty on their sleeve…and on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. At a time where people are driven by primary impulses to go to the brightest flash, Man City has capitalized on the universal call of “make my moment”. The result? Loving them is priceless.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Everybody’s Free to Learn

Going to a great school is one step towards obtaining a good education. If you want to be the best, you need to learn from the best. You can do this through traditional education or by working with people who are successful in your field. I did the latter, but however you do it, it does pay to seek the knowledge of those who have gone before you. I get great satisfaction working with up-and-coming talent, and I get as much inspiration from them as I hope they get from me.

Unfortunately in our modern world, access to a good education still isn’t easily accessible to everyone.  But thanks to the evolution of computer and internet technology, this is beginning to change. Since Sebastian Thrun began offering free online courses in association with Stanford University last year, leading universities have scrambled to create their own online offering. MIT and Harvard are the latest to join in on this trend, teaming up to create EDX – a $60 million venture that will offer free, digital courses to students around the world.

This is just another example of how modern technology is capable of breaking down barriers, leveling the playing field and revolutionizing education. 20 years ago the thought of free courses at the world’s most prestigious universities would have been seen as insanity. Now it’s soon to be available to everyone.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kill the Company

Is your company its own worst enemy?

Lisa Bodells, FutureThink CEO and author of Kill the Company, says that corporate structures set in place to promote company growth can also be holding you back. Bodell’s book provides a new way of looking at how businesses can think, grow and innovate. I agree with her comments that anyone can create change and have the power to innovate. Risk is always a sticking point in business and too often I’ve seen people stick with the status quo just because it’s the safer option.

In today’s highly connected world where things change in an instant and people expect immediate action, businesses can’t always take the safe option. It takes guts to ditch complacency and do something different. Leaders who challenge the status quo and innovate are driving the shape of business worldwide. I’ve said it before - management is dead. To win in the Age of Now, companies need to have an inspired purpose. People want to be taken on a journey of discovery and growth.

I’ve written about the growth of movements and this is also something Bodell talks about in her book, saying that people need to “get inspired” and “think big”. In order to innovate you need to successfully weed out the things that are holding you back and ditching complacency is a pretty good start.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rising to the Pressure

Two people who had survived intense pressure and tasted success last year were Graham Henry and Richie McCaw. As respective coach and captain of the All Blacks they were tasked with bringing home the Rugby World Cup silverware and a nation of five million supporters weren’t going to accept anything less. Success in sport can often hinge on how much a team wants to win and in high stakes situations mental toughness can play a crucial role.

Henry believes that his eight years coaching the All Blacks proved mentally tougher for his family than for him. "They go through more difficult times than you, because they have no control over it, and you have. You're at the coalface, doing the job, and it dissipates the pressure; you are so involved in the process you don't worry too much about the result.”

Henry is now passing on his knowledge to other sporting teams as a “mentor”. He’s involved with Super 15 rugby team the Blues, Argentina’s national rugby team the Pumas, and Sport New Zealand’s emerging coaches from disciplines such as yachting and cycling.

In an interview with the magazine MiNDFOOD, Richie McCaw opened up about the sort of pressure he is under as All Blacks captain. “There is always pressure going into any match, I have accepted that. Everyone expects the All Blacks to win every time they go on the field. If you try and say there is no pressure you are kidding yourself. I try to put it aside and just be excited by the opportunity.”

He goes on to say that being the best player he can be is key to supporting his team. Walking the talk and leading by example are traits of role model Todd Blackadder (former All Black), which Richie hopes to emulate.

Psyching yourself up is a particularly effective mental toughness tool and we all do it before a big occasion because it helps to give us courage or the “edge”. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the world’s most successful rugby team, the All Blacks, also have the most elaborate mental warm up – the Haka.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Goal Setting on Track

While the idolization of professional athletes often raises eyebrows, to me there’s no denying they deserve each accolade they receive. No one becomes an elite sportsperson on talent alone. It takes passion, commitment and attitude to make it to the top.

Whether you’re an aspiring athlete or entrepreneur, there’s a lot you can learn from the world’s elite athletes. By emulating the techniques they use to push ahead, win gold and shatter records, it’s possible for anyone to be on their way to accomplishing the remarkable.

Bernie Michalik has been running long-distance for over 20 years. He is a senior architect at IBM and recently shared four tips that creatives can learn from elite marathoners when it comes to successful goal-setting.

  • Adopt concrete goals that aim toward excellence: Elite athletes are very specific about what they want to achieve, right down to the split-second. By developing your own set of specific, long-term goals you can achieve success in any aspect of your life – whether you want to a promotion or to complete a specific project.
  • Design a training regime, engage coaches and expand your expertise: Athletes are continuously training and expanding their program to include new challenges – but they never do it alone. Find a mentor you admire, listen to their advice and incorporate it into achieving your goals.
  • Keep a log of your efforts and outcomes: The best runners don’t simply create goals; they also rigorously measure how they are tracking to achieve them. Make note of all the actions you take to achieve your personal goals and measure the pay-off received from each one. 
  • Take the long view: Each race an elite runner participates in helps them reach their long-term goals. By being tactical about what projects, jobs and roles you take on you can help ensure each one is a step towards achieving your long-term goals.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stay Connected, Stay Healthy

Scientists have discovered that social connection is so important to us that the pain of social injury (“hurt feelings” or rejection) can have a similar effect as actual physical injury. In fact studies on the brain have shown that social pain uses the same anterior cingulate cortex as the emotional component of physical pain. This discovery shows a direct link between our emotions and the physiological processes of the body – being socially unconnected can actually damage our health.

Making time to forget about the stresses of life and instead simply enjoy life with friends and family can have a big impact on wellbeing and even life expectancy. One US study conducted over a nine year period showed that those who placed low on the social network index were twice as likely to die as those who placed higher even though they may share other negative attributes such as smoking.

Strong emotional connections can also help heal our bodies. Meeting with others to provide mutual support not only improves feelings of wellness, but can significantly improve chances of recovery from life-threatening illnesses.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sir JK

23 years ago I met a guy who has become one of my closest friends - New Zealand’s greatest ever test winger, John Kirwan. A butcher’s apprentice from Mangere in Auckland. A role model. Scorer of the best ever Rugby World Cup. A legend who suffered from depression. A man who was knighted today.

Kirwan Knighted for Health Work
New Zealand Herald

When John Kirwan sat down to dinner with his family and asked for their thoughts about him receiving a knighthood, his younger son, Luca, cut straight to the important bit.

"Does this make me a prince and do I get free stuff?" the 12 year-old asked.

That comment broke the ice and ended any uncertainty the 47-year-old All Black great-turned-international coach and mental health spokesman had about accepting the honour.

He is one of four new knights in today's Queen's Birthday honours. The others are former Telecom chief executive and chairman Roderick Deane, former Labour finance minister Michael Cullen and top public servant Maarten Wevers.

Three new dames are created - Maori educator and advocate June Mariu, Fashion Week director Pieter Stewart and Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem.

The honours list also recognises many other well-known New Zealanders, including All Black World Cup coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith and Academy Award winner Bret McKenzie.

"This can go up next to the Oscar, which is currently next to the nappy cream on top of the piano," McKenzie said.

Sir John Kirwan's wife, Fiorella, knew little of the implications but when he explained the title was largely for his work in mental health, the family understood.

After his battles with depression, Sir John became a spokesman and campaigner in New Zealand for mental health issues. He made his problems public to encourage other people to seek help.

"I remember the day they asked me to do the awareness campaign. It was the hardest thing I ever considered," Sir John said.

"My philosophy all the way through about mental health is that if I can help one person, it will be great.

"If you ask me what is depression, it is the best and worst thing to ever happen to me. But my whole journey has been positive.

"There were scary times because of the stigma attached to depression, but I have tried to break those down because it is an illness, not a weakness."

When he was asked to accept the knighthood, Sir John requested 24 hours to think about it. He wondered what people would think and whether it was appropriate.

In the end, the 63-test All Black accepted it for his work outside his sporting sphere.

"It seems like all this is a long way from Mangere," said Sir John of his upbringing, his time at De La Salle College and his butcher's apprentice beginning.

"Mum's still alive and Dad would also have been really proud, though I can just imagine him telling me something like, 'Don't get too big-headed, boy.'

"I've accepted the award on behalf of all those people who are suffering, to show there is hope. My main message is that there is always hope, there is always help, there is always a way out of the troubles."

Sir John has lived in Europe for the past 10 years, and has coached Italy and Japan.

He coached the Barbarians in three tests against England, Ireland, and then Wales yesterday in Cardiff, and is looking for his next appointment.

His target is the Blues, in Auckland.

He has spoken several times to the Herald about his interest in coaching a Super 15 team as a pathway to his ultimate target of making the All Black panel.

He said he would apply this week for the Blues job, which is being advertised after incumbent Pat Lam's lack of success.

Arise Sir JK! Top Man