Thursday, January 31, 2013

Calm From Crisis

When the winds subside in the middle of a storm, and you experience a moment of utter clarity that propels you to get the job done, then you will have experienced calm from crisis.

Productivity guru David Allen believes that if we can tap into this sense of serenity, when all else melts away and we focus in on what needs to be done, then we become the most productive that we can be. But the nature of crisis is that it sneaks up on us, it’s unpredictable and can’t be controlled. Allen says that we don’t need crisis to tap into that sense of calm. We just need a few tools to help us get there.

“Getting things done is not about getting things done,” says Allen. Sounds like a paradox, but it’s really about being appropriately engaged with what’s going on. If we’re able to gain focus and be engaged then we can become more productive in our lives.

One of the ways to get that engagement is to gain “psychic bandwidth”, says Allen. We don’t need more time. That’s a fallacy. What we need is more space and room to think.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lost For Words

If you’ve ever been asked what you’re feeling and you’ve felt lost for words then it’s probably because you really are, lost for words that is. English is a wonderfully descriptive and varied language, but it’s not perfect. Not everything can be summed up neatly, especially when it comes to human emotions.

In an attempt to fill in these literal gaps, Pei-Ying Lin, a design student at the Royal College of Art has created a matrix of emotional states and the words that best describe them. She takes base words like love and anger and connects them to satellite emotions like lust and fear. If that wasn’t interesting enough, she has also inserted foreign words that describe some of the feelings that English doesn’t.

Take the word Lygee for example, which is Danish for complete and utter happiness, or Тоска, which in Russian means a great anguish or longing of the soul, often without any reason. Or how about that elusive moment when you realise that you’re falling in love? The Japanese have a single word that describes this state: tokimeki.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Bite-Sized Future

In its annual forward looking report, Euromonitor forecasts that we will see more bite-sized offerings in 2013. The concept isn’t new. People are already snacking on things like chocolate and philosophy. In smaller packages, price points are lower, attraction is higher, and sometimes you just want a taste, not a six course meal.

Here are some ways business should get small.
  • Shorter meetings. The recession created less time and less resource. People need to achieve more with less. The great thing is that meetings started to involve decision-makers and focused on what needed to get done. It should stay that way.

  • Small shops. Retail is going mini and finding homes in larger stores. They’re popping up in all sorts of spaces. If there’s room for the swipe of a credit card and a screen (make it interactive!), you’ve gone into business.

  • Snackable content. I like reading on planes. You can get through a novel and a magazine without interruption. On days when everything seems to be going gangbusters at once, knowing what I need to know through feeds and bite-sized summaries means I can read 4 papers, a dozen blogs and several memos just over breakfast.

  • Manage in minutes. Take 10 minutes a day to focus on the people who really matter to your business. What do they need? What have they been saying? Then take action or get out of their way.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Stay Permanently Confused

The penetrating American writer George Saunders has a new book of stories, Tenth of December, and it could be one for the collection.

A friend of mine just sent me a great Saunders line from the end of a 2005 article he wrote for GQ on the pleasures and paradoxes of Dubai, a place I know well and am a big fan of. It’s as good a piece of advice as any on how to look out on each new day.

Don't be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lance Armstrong: from Hero to Zero

Lance Armstrong has been banned from all competitive sport for his lifetime. Good. This is the least he deserves. Take up meditation, hiking, solo yachting, writing fiction. I say this as a sportsman, sports sponsor, and sports administrator.

The Sunday Times, which is seeking recompense for £1 million in libel damages they paid out to Armstrong after they made drug-taking allegations against him, said this two days ago: “Lance Armstrong is probably the most egregious drugs cheat in the history of sport. He cheated his way to an unprecedented seven victories in the Tour de France and countless other championships. He bullied his team-mates and the cycling establishment into keeping quiet or turning a blind eye.” And he’s ruined countless people’s lives and reputations. He only cares about Lance.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Spite of Ourselves

I left a snowy, wintery UK on Sunday and arrived back in New York in time to catch a concert at the City Winery just down the street from me. Iris DeMent was playing songs from her new album, "Sing the Delta." I've been an Iris fan for many years but have never seen her live before. I was introduced to her through several duets with one of my old time favorites, John Prine ('In Spite of Ourselves' is a classic). She's part of a small group of singer/songwriters I really like. She's married to Greg Brown, plays with John Prine and is big friends with Tom Russell and Lucinda Williams. My favorite song of hers is called 'Our Town' which she sang last night. She was born in Arkansas and was one of 14 children. (That must have called for some parenting.) Check her out.

The City Winery is a terrific venue, halfway between my loft and the Agency on Varick Street. It's a place where you book a table, eat a few plates of salami and cheese, and drink a good bottle of red while watching a terrific, concert close-up.

All time favorite Robert Earl Keen is playing there next Monday. I'll be in Paris. Bugger.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Inauguration Priorities

Washington DC was festooned yesterday for the second inauguration of President Obama. The history, scale and self-belief on show were palpable. The achievements of America are immense: civil rights, freedoms, democracy in action, capitalism, technology; the Presidency itself. Speeches focused on togetherness, resilience, ferocious battles over belief and ideas; “hard things are really hard.” And then I was reminded of the debt.

There is the need for massive change in the economic drivers of America. The US federal government does not make sense from a business perspective. Or a household. It is phenomenally indebted. Well beyond common sense. Governments throughout history have believed that printing money will secure the day, but such self-delusion eventually creates failed states. My sense is that today most businesses do a great job of serving customers, shareholders and the community together. Governments however seem glued to a model that is not working.

My hope for the next four years of America is that the President and Congress make quick, clear, big decisions based on the right things to do, not on vested interests, lobbyists, polemic. Otherwise the next inauguration in 2017 will be a threadbare event.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Play Works

Creativity cannot be contrived. It needs a certain amount of randomness and an element of play to really flourish. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, creativity is sometimes best left to its own devices. Fast Company recently ran an article on how to cultivate creativity at work – one place that can easily kill creativity. Here are three ideas from them and one from Saatchi & Saatchi New York’s Chief Creative Officer, Con Williamson.
  1. Hire and Play: Design and consultancy firm IDEO hires a diverse range of people from poets to physicists. Staff are also encouraged to interact with a Tech Box that contains old projects and prototypes to help them form new mental connections and new design innovations.

  2. Teach and Learn: Eventbrite holds internal ‘how to’ training events that are held by staff during working hours on a range of topics that are not necessarily connected to work. The events help boost the creative potential of the company and can help stimulate new ideas.

  3. Work and Surf: Clothing company Patagonia promotes flexi-time when the surf is up, meaning that staff don’t just take ten, they hang ten! The company credits activities outside of work for many of its best-selling products.

  4. Big Italian Dinner: Con once described his creative management style 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.
Bring on the lasagna!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Design By Democracy

New York City wants to revamp the humble city payphone and is looking to the community for ideas. Grand in size and scale, the Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge looks to give the city’s 11,000 public payphones the “wow” factor, but more importantly, give people the functionality they really need. Designers need to keep in mind issues of connectivity, design, community impact, sustainability, accessibility and safety, but once the basics are covered the sky’s the limit. It’s a fantastic way to stimulate innovation and foster new ideas.

The Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge is the third public innovation challenge to launch as part of the New York City’s ‘Reinvent’ programme. One project was Reinvent Green, the city’s first sustainability hackathon. It called on the technology and design community to come together to build digital tools and applications that support New Yorkers in leading greener lives. The winning apps made crowdsourcing recycling and bike pooling just that much easier for us city folk.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Living it to the Max

New Zealand scientist and an all round disruptor, Sir Ray Avery, has a unique approach to keeping himself on track and motivated - he counts down how many days he has left on the planet to ensure that he makes the most out of life.

“I’ve got about 5,625 days to live,” the 65-year old told an audience of entrepreneurs. “When you’re born, you’re born with 30,000 days. That’s it. The best strategic planning I can give to you is to think about that… Every day I do a chart on what I’ve achieved and where I want to be. And it makes you scary-as-shit clever.”

Most of us don’t like to think about ‘the end’, but the idea of a reverse engineered calendar means that instead of having x amount of days left, we have x amount of days to fill with life. My Canadian friend Robin Dyke(pictured), still playing great rugby, still cycling every day, still mentoring Victoria MBAs, still open eyed with curiosity, (and older than Ray Avery!) lives this to the max. An inspiration to all us young folks.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Quit Smoking With Barça

Thanks to an initiative from the European Commission and FC Barcelona, people who love life, football and Barça can achieve their goal of...quitting smoking.

“Quit Smoking with Barça” is the latest iteration of the successful “Ex-Smokers are Unstoppable” campaign by Saatchi & Saatchi Brussels created to encourage some of Europe’s 140 million smokers to kick the habit for good. The campaign provides advice and motivation straight from the mouths of Barça’s phenomenal players, coaches and staff, and delivers it into your phone or inbox when you need it most.

I love the way this campaign throws the relationship between sporting institutions and fans on its head. The fan becomes the athlete and the club focuses on supporting them. FC Barcelona President Rosell sums it up best: “If you can commit to trying we can commit to standing by your side every step of the way on your journey to a smoke-free life. There has never been a better time to quit than now”.

Monday, January 14, 2013


There is a new biography of Leonard Cohen out I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons but the book I headed for is the biography of his song “Hallelujah” by Alan Light (full title: The Holy or the Broken – Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”).

The song has become one of the most-performed rock songs in history, a staple of movies and television shows, or tribute videos and telethons, played every year at countless events around the world, both sacred and secular.

“There is simply no getting around the power of that chorus: one word, charged with centuries of meaning, delivered ironically or symbolically or both. It serves as a prayer, perhaps the great prayer of the modern age, regardless of one’s relationship to God. One look at the tears streaming down the faces of a sea of kids singing along with Leonard Cohen at the Coachella Festival demonstrates the ability of this some, with one age-old word at its center, to transport listeners in a way that organized religion has largely failed to do for this generation.”

“Hallelujah” sits on my bookshelf next to the biography of a classic album A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Speedy Times

Some see it as amazing progress, others total madness, but there’s no stopping the march of modern day living into the moment. I’m a believer in the fast, hi-tech, ‘wow the now’ future, and reckon that overall a ‘hey presto!’ approach will make life better and easier for the generations to come.

Time travelers arriving from 50 years back would have to be gob smacked by the instant reality here and ahead. Just these three examples would blow them away:
  • Why build more car parks if a self-driving car could pick you up when your smartphone detects you’re leaving work.

  • A company in China is planning to build the world’s tallest building in how long? Not years, not half a year, 90 days.

  • And why not get the grocery shopping done while waiting for the train or plane? Whether you’re shopping at-home, on-the-go or in-store, take the check-out line and the schlepping out of the equation.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Different, But For The Better

Children have great aspirations. They want to be firemen, the President, ballet dancers, doctors, snake wranglers and All Blacks. They want to own their own homes, have families and travel the world. Our aspirations stem from our imaginations when we are young, which is the way it should be, but a study by Barclays bank shows that two out of five people feel some disappointment at not achieving their childhood dreams.

However, despite many dreams being fulfilled later than many of us expected, 33% of respondents still claim life has turned out ‘differently but for the better’. This third found that better life experiences, more travel and more personal challenges were the main reasons for achieving different, but better outcomes.

If you think that having kids was one of the best things you’ve done in your life then you’re not alone. The study found that nearly 60% said that having children is key to a ‘rich life’. This life achievement was followed by getting married, buying a home, securing a good job and being with friends.

The study confirms what we already know: that we’re taking more time to do what we set out to do because of societal and financial pressures. A third admitted that their goals are hard to achieve because life is more expensive that they realized, while many said that they were too busy to tackle other goals.

Life throws us a whole bunch of curve balls. Some we manage to hit out of the park, while with others we get to first base or even strike out. That, as they say, is life, but one thing we should never forget is to always aspire to live our dreams, keep dreaming and aspiring to do better, be better. (And have lots of grandchildren!)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Leadership 2013

The Rev. Nicky Gumbel @nickygumbel, Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (the largest Anglican church in the UK), tweeted his take on leadership as his opening to 2013. This is a pin-the-on-the-wall-and-look-at-it-every-morning checklist.
  • L ove
  • E ncouragement
  • A uthenticity
  • D aring
  • E nthusiasm
  • R espect
  • S ervice
  • H ope
  • I ntegrity 
  • P erseverance
Ancient scripture wisdom repackaged for the modern age. The Rev. Nicky is known internationally for developing the Alpha Course – the most popular introduction to Christianity course in the world. He has been described as a natural leader – confident but self-effacing holiness.

New areas of leadership study – Servant Leadership and Authentic Leadership – emphasise a deep sense of morality in the leader, and a concern for the welfare of others that is greater than the desire to self promote. The leader is there to enable others to flourish.

Thanks to Chris Saunders, MBA Director at the Lancaster University Management School, for sending.

Monday, January 7, 2013

“Always be closing”

One of my favorite actors is on Broadway right now. Al Pacino is playing Shelly Levene in David Mamet’s brutal and darkly comic 1984 play “Glengarry Glen Ross” about desperate salesmen in a 1980s Chicago real estate office, and “who stole the leads.” Selling is a much disrespected and underestimated occupation. It’s hard work, you have to be clever, relentless, articulate, intuitive, inventive, emotional. This cast of pitchmen is at the leather-beaten end of the spectrum, but we all depend on them, salesmen, without whom the wheels of the world would not turn. “Always be closing” is the play’s refrain.  If you can’t venture to the Great White Way to see Glengarry Glen Ross then check out the film version, the cast is stellar: Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Jonathan Pryce, and Alec Baldwin.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Django Unchained

If you love spaghetti Westerns, amazing acting, great direction, superb dialogue, taking the mickey out of the Ku Klux Klan, Jamie Foxx, surprising soundtracks, Inglourious Basterds, tongue in cheek horsemanship, and Quentin Tarantino, Django's for you.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Who was that masked man?

The legend of the Lone Ranger began in 1933 with the first radio broadcast. The story of a Texas Ranger, the lone survivor when a band of outlaws kill all the other Rangers he is riding with. Found barely alive after the brutal killings by his boyhood Indian friend, Tonto, he tames a wild stallion he names Silver. Together with Tonto (and his trusty horse Scout), the Lone Ranger and Silver travel across the American West to help the helpless and bring justice to the oppressed.

Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels made the roles theirs. And in October 2011 I was lucky enough to buy two full size paintings (see above) of my heroes by New Zealand art hero Michael Parekowhai (from another great Kiwi Lucy Lawless) . . . and now Tonto is about to tell his story. In July 2013, Walt Disney Pictures will release Johnny Depp as Tonto telling the story of how the Lone Ranger became a legend of justice. I can’t wait.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

This Year’s Rulins

As a ten year old in Lancaster I was addicted to the Lone Ranger and his trusted friend Tonto. On radio, television and the Saturday morning pictures I couldn’t get enough of these 2 buddies fighting the good fight. I was given a first edition of Fran Striker’s 1940 book for Christmas and this reminded me of the Lone Ranger’s Creed.

A good way to kick off the New Year (and every year.)

The Lone Ranger’s Creed

1. I believe that to have a friend, a man must be one.

2. That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.

3. That God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.

4. In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.

5. That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.

6. That “this government, of the people, by the people, and for the people,” shall live always.

7. That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.

8. That sooner or later . . . somewhere . . . somehow . . . we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.

9. That all things change, but the truth, and the truth alone lives on forever.

10. I believe in my Creator, my country, my fellow man.