Thursday, February 27, 2014

Davos Top 5

Every year the elites head to Davos in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum to discuss the world’s most pressing issues. For the past five years the focus has been on crisis management as economies tanked and unemployment sky-rocketed, but in 2014 there was more to smile about. Here are my top 5:

A third of the continent is seeing economic growth of more than six percent. Of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world, six are in Africa, and 60 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land is there. Countries with more established democratic governments are making the biggest gains. People are earning more money and becoming more connected to the rest of the world thanks to mobile technology. Businesses need to be thinking more strategically about what they have to offer Africa. As a start, I’d suggest you just go there.

We’ve been haemorrhaging jobs for a while. The future of our youth is in question and we need to come up with fresh ideas. Governments are starting to invest more and in my books that’s an opportunity to invest in new technologies. R&D has huge benefits for nations. So it’s time to nurture what we’re each good at and back our own people to deliver.

A healthy society is made up of healthy people. One way attendees at Davos were asked to think of this was by being tracked through a digital medical advice feeding data to their smartphones. It told them if they were getting enough exercise and sleep to be at their mental peak. The point being, we need to place a greater emphasis on wellbeing to spare the immense resources soaked up through the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach.

Equality of Opportunity
Those who have succeeded in life have a moral obligation to give back to the community, be it with their time, skills or finance. It’s not possible to argue that every job is equal or that economies are equal. What we need to ensure in our societies is equality of opportunity. What we need to focus on is how economic growth can benefit everyone. And that means ensuring our children are confident and skilled to take the opportunities in front of them.

Japan set a goal of 30 percent of women in top jobs at Davos, a big step for a very traditional and male-dominated business environment. Research shows only 10 percent of venture-backed start-ups are owned by women, and they receive about an eight of the funding men do. We need more women making investment decisions and acting as angel investors. Spotting the best and brightest and getting them going.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Deciphering the Popularity of Pope Francis

He’s graced the cover of Rolling Stone. Named TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year. Been carved in chocolate. Boosted tourism to the Vatican by 180 percent. Sold his Harley Davidson for US$300,000 (proceeds going to a soup kitchen). And is looked on favorably by nine out of 10 Americans. He’s Pope Francis. The most popular Pope in living memory. But why?

The media, who are never afraid to cut anyone down, still hasn’t worked the Pope out. They don’t know how to position him. Because, put simply, he’s not a Pope. He’s first and foremost Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He’s the man he’s always been, and he’s refused to let the pomp of his title change him.

His leadership style is simple. He believes in setting the example through his actions. That doesn’t explain his popularity though. In my view, he’s popular because he’s real. He’s approachable. Responsive. Impulsive. Kind. Genuine. He entered the Vatican with a goal to return it to the people. After all, its people that make up the Church. Not buildings. Nor robes.

Undoubtedly, his popularity has been closely tied to the swiftness with which he has transformed the battered image of the Catholic Church. These were the hallmarks of an institution Pope Francis inherited. So he dealt with them and changed the conversation. It’s an illustration, and lesson, for any leader. Particularly in business. Some firms are simply toxic, in practice or culture. The best leaders aren’t shaped by the environment they enter; they seek to change that environment for the better.

Too many managers, at all levels, believe they have to adopt a new persona to be effective or respected. Pope Francis shows exactly why that’s a fallacy. He’s his own man, and the world loves him for it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Emotion (Less)?

Conventional science says we have six ‘classic’ emotions. Happy, surprise, fear, sad, disgust and anger. Emotion at its most simplistic. A new study out of Glasgow is claiming that really, it’s probably only four. Surprise/afraid and anger/disgust provoke more or less identical physical responses. By physical response, they’re referring to facial expressions. Their reasoning is that our core emotional responses are centred on survival. It is social factors that led to greater distinction between our emotions over time.

Personally, I struggle with trying to simplify our emotions. In reality, it’s the complexity that makes it fascinating. How we express emotion through our limited facial muscles doesn’t necessarily reflect the true physiological response that’s taking place in our brains.

There is no way of knowing whether the first men and women on this planet shared our exact emotional palette. It stands to reason that emotion, like intelligence, has evolved over time. But I’m not prepared to so easily accept that we only had four building blocks to work from. We know, after all, that love is the strongest emotion of all. All it takes is a nanosecond of attraction to kick-start that intense emotion. And from there the emotional pot gets seriously stirred.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Millennials and the Age of High Expectations

The demographic that’s driving a lot of the change that we’re experiencing in the Age of Now is Millennials. They are more confident, independent, mobile and tech savvy. Millennials know what they want, and because of the power of the Internet, they don’t have to wait to realize their potential. As an employer, they are one of the more challenging groups to manage, but when they’re thriving at peak performance, there’s nothing like it.

The latest Millennial Survey from Deloitte sheds a bit more light on their thinking and helps us “other” age groups understand what’s driving their dreams, aspirations and expectations.

Millennials want to work for businesses that encourage and foster creative thinking. They want less structure, less procedure and more flexibility. They are looking to management that backs them and opens doors to showcase their skills.

They believe that it is up to business to make the world a better place (a view that I support whole heartedly, and have so for years). It is corporations who should be tackling issues like climate change, resource scarcity and income equality. Government is a big let-down in the eyes of Millennials. Bureaucracy is too expensive, not agile and inefficient.

Millennials, quite rightly in my view, want to be proud of who they work for. They want to feel like they’re making a difference. Ultimately, if a business isn’t meeting their needs and aspirations, Millennials have no qualms about moving on. Gone are the days where people work to cash in their pensions after long-service. Employee loyalty no longer works on such simplistic formulas. The challenge for employers is to be more creative about talent retention. A job isn’t enough. It’s about the whole of life picture. With 75% of the global workforce going to be made up of Millennials in a decade, it’s a challenge business needs to take up now.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Age: Richer, Not Slower?

It’s been generally accepted that our mental faculties slow down with age. Cognitive decline, they call it, and scientists have pinpointed the start of our downhill trek to begin around age 25. A new study is now looking at the issue from a different angle and asking whether cognitive decline is age-related, or a symptom of our brains holding more information.

As we get older, does it take longer to retrieve what we’re looking for because we’re holding too much in our brains? If you use the analogy of a library, the more books you have, the longer it’s going to take you to find the one you’re looking for. The argument is that perhaps the brain isn’t slowing down; it’s just got mountains more material it needs to sort through.

A cynic might say it doesn’t matter if the result is the same. But then with technology advancing at such a rapid rate, it’s foreseeable that we could one day create a tool that helps to keep us mentally sharp through our golden years. I’m sure someone already has an application in the works. The more we know about the brain, the better. The last thing we want is to surrender our memories in favor of Google. As they say, use it or lose it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


On a recent bleak London day spent I had a mountain of documents to give feedback on, gnarly decisions to make of the sort that only reach the desk of a CEO, and a few turbid calls and meetings. Call it the first half of my RLRJ matrix – Responsibility and Learning. This is the grit and gravitas part of the equation, part inspiration but mostly perspiration. Taking and giving responsibility, taking and giving learning. But peppered through this way were five emails from different parts of the world – Austin Texas, London, Paris, NYNZ and Lancaster, plus a shout out in the Financial Times. They were all short, and all sweet. Thoughtful expressions of thanks, acknowledgement and remembrance. This is the second part of the matrix: Recognition, which leads to the ultimate state, that of Joy. We all need recognition, no matter how minor. So right now, reach out and recognize someone who will take some joy from your thoughtful expression of appreciation, it could be a colleague or associate, someone your senior or your junior. A perfect day is made up of equal parts of Responsibility, Learning, Recognition, and Joy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Manchester United Succession Learnings

One of the more fascinating stories in sport right now is the difficulties new Manager David Moyes is facing following the retirement of perhaps Football’s greatest ever Manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.

From running away with the Premiership last year, Manchester United are now languishing in seventh place, 12 points below Manchester City who have played one game less.

I will be speaking at a Business / Sports Leadership programme at Manchester United in May and I was thinking about what we can learn from the difficulties David Moyes is facing.

  1. The CEO and the Manager both left at the same time. At Saatchi & Saatchi this would be like the CEO and Worldwide Creative Director leaving simultaneously. The stress on the organisation would be huge, clients would be edgy, continuity would be lost, and institutional knowledge would be severely reduced. Manchester United’s Board should have managed this much better and kept CEO David Gill in place for at least 24 months to ensure Mr Moyes was given a safety net of experience and scar tissue.

  2. David Moyes is Sir Alex Ferguson-light and was chosen by Sir Alex himself. Two learnings here.

    i) The outgoing CEO is not the best placed to name his successor. He is too close to the business and too emotionally involved. He should provide advice, counsel and perspective but this is the Board’s decision.

    ii) The Board should resist the temptation to make an incremental like for like change. After a tenure as long as Sir Alex, they need transformation not incremental improvement. The players will not respond to a watered down version of the original.

  3. There was no incumbent on the short list; indeed there was no short list. For every CEO job there should be three horses in the race. Ideally two internal and one external. There was no race at Old Trafford, just a shoo-in.

  4. Finally, given the double change at the top I find it astounding that the incoming Manager would bring in all his own people and remove all the other key staff. I took completely the reverse point of view when I joined Saatchi & Saatchi. I took no-one with me and told the people who were there that I would provide them with a framework for them to step up, perform and deliver. They stayed and did just that. In Manchester United’s case they all walked out of the door, the players were bewildered, opponents ecstatic.

Who knows how this story will play out but I believe a business as big as Manchester United should have managed this key appointment much more rigorously. The Board appear to have abrogated responsibility and should be held accountable.

Monday, February 17, 2014

10 Wisdoms of Grieving

I’ve been doing some grieving over the death of Norman Ellis, my high school mentor, and while on the scale of grieving this is a personal loss leading of a lot of reflection on life of Norman and the impact he had on me, I’m well aware of the trauma that can accompany the death of a family member or close friend or colleague. My friend Robin Dyke sent me this piece from Catherine Woodiwiss, a web editor based in Washington DC, who has experienced the death of a sister from an accident in Afghanistan, and the slow recovery of another sister who was hit by a car.

Catherine wrote a moving article in January about trauma, grieving and healing. We can all benefit from her wisdom. I have abridged her commentary, but you can read her full article here on the Sojourners blog.
  • Trauma permanently changes us.
    This is the big, scary truth about trauma: there is no such thing as “getting over it.” The five stages of grief model marks universal stages in learning to accept loss, but the reality is in fact much bigger: a major life disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no “back to the old me.” You are different now, full stop. Wear your new life — warts, wisdom and all — with courage.

  • Presence is always better than distance.
    There is a curious illusion that in times of crisis, people “need space.” In my experience it is almost always false. Trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time even when surrounded in love; to suffer through trauma alone is unbearable. Do not assume others are reaching out, showing up or covering all the bases. Err on the side of presence.

  • Healing is seasonal, not linear.
    In the recovery wilderness, emotional healing looks less like a line and more like a wobbly figure-8. It’s perfectly common to get stuck in one stage for months, only to jump to another end entirely…only to find yourself back in the same old mud again next year. Recovery lasts a long, long time. Expect seasons.

  • Surviving trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders.” Very few people are both.
    Surviving trauma requires at least two types of people: the crisis team — those friends who can drop everything and jump into the fray by your side; and the reconstruction crew — those whose calm, steady care will help nudge you out the door into regaining your footing in the world. It is rare for any individual to be both a firefighter and a builder. This is one reason why trauma is a lonely experience. Even if you share suffering with others, no one else will be able to fully walk the road with you the whole way. 

  • Grieving is social, and so is healing.
    For as private a pain as trauma is, for all the healing that time and self-work will bring, we are wired for contact. Just as relationships can hurt us most deeply, it is only through relationship that we can be most fully healed. Seeking out shelter in one another requires tremendous courage, but it is a matter of life or paralysis.

  • Do not offer platitudes or comparisons. Do not, do not, do not.
    “I’m so sorry you lost your son, we lost our dog last year…” “At least it’s not as bad as…” “You’ll be stronger when this is over.” Trauma is terrible. What we need in the aftermath is a friend who can swallow her own discomfort and fear, sit beside us and just let it be terrible for a while.

  • Allow those suffering to tell their own stories.
    Give the person struggling through trauma the dignity of discovering and owning for himself where, and if, hope endures.

  • Love shows up in unexpected ways. This is a mystifying pattern after trauma, particularly for those in broad community: some near-strangers reach out, some close friends fumble to express care. It may not look like what you’d request or expect, but there will be days when surprise love will be the sweetest.

  • Whatever doesn’t kill you…
    There will be days when you feel like a quivering, cowardly shell of yourself, when despair yawns as a terrible chasm, when fear paralyzes any chance for pleasure. This is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.

  • …Doesn’t kill you.
    Living through trauma may teach you resilience. It may prompt humility. It may even make you stronger. It also may not. In the end, the hope of life after trauma is simply that you have life after trauma. The days, in their weird and varied richness, go on. So will you.
Thank you, Catherine.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Art of Plating

Brett Littman, executive director of The Drawing Centre, was so enraptured by his dining experience at the famed (and now closed) elBulli in Spain that he completed his meal by purchasing a copy of A Day at elBulli. Within the book’s pages Littman noticed that it featured images of lists and diagrams head chef Ferran Adrià had made to record his ideas and document the immense body of technical knowledge required to create a constant stream of ambitious new dishes - like a nutmeg-sprinkled ostrich “eggshell” made of flash-frozen gorgonzola that had to be manually cracked open and consumed using only your fingers in 18 seconds before it turned into a puddle.

Fascinated by the way those outside the visual world use drawing as a part of their creative process, Littman contacted Adrià to ask if he might be interested in taking his drawings public. The result is Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity, an exhibition that includes plating diagrams that Adrià used to create new dishes.

The exhibition will be a walk into the mind of Adrià and his kitchen, showing the process of his art form. If you’re in New York, check it out at The Drawing Center until February 28 before it tours Los Angeles, Cleveland, Minneapolis, and the Netherlands.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love is Sweet

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s a nice discovery that love does indeed make some things in life seem sweeter. Studies have shown that certain emotions heighten our senses, with love causing things to taste sweeter, loneliness making the world feel colder, and the idea of importance making things feel heavier.

One recent study, published in the journal Emotion, asked participants to write about an experience of either romantic love, jealously, or a neutral topic, following which they were each given a sweet-and-sour or bittersweet candy. Those participants who wrote about love found the candies sweeter than their counterparts. Participants then repeated the experience, but were given water under the guise of ‘a new drink product’ rather than candy. Once again those who wrote about love found the water sweeter.

Fortunately for those who wrote about jealously, evoking the emotion did not cause the candies or water to taste bitter, as metaphor might suggest – showing that only some metaphors have truth.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Art for Greater Empathy

When it comes to education, spending on Math and English are at the top of the list, and somewhere at the bottom is where you’ll find art. This shouldn’t be, as a study published in Education Next showed that students who are exposed to cultural institutions, like museums and performing arts centers, not only have higher levels of engagement with the arts but display greater tolerance, historical empathy, as well as better educational memory and critical thinking skills.

In the study, participants were sorted into two groups – one group who learned about art at school and the other at a gallery. Students who went to the gallery could recall information about the piece that wasn’t part of the main discussion. They also had better recall on the piece three weeks after the experience. When asked to write about a new piece of art those who had attended the gallery also engaged in greater critical thinking. Finally, being given a survey those gallery student showed higher levels of empathy and tolerance.

Art education is something we need to invest in for the future development of our children. To put it simply as a related article in Fast Company did “…Art Will Make Your Kids Better Thinkers (And Nicer People). It doesn’t replace Math and English, but it sure can make a difference to how future generations view the world.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Year of the ‘Listicle’

People are quick to exult the virtues of lists. I’ve written about them from time to time myself. Websites like Buzzfeed, Forbes and Business Insider have also embraced the list, but more in the form of what is now popularly known as the ‘listicle’ (part list, part article). And why not? It seems that there is a universal, neurological love for the list:
  • Lists appeal to our neurological tendency to organize things. We like order over chaos.

  • They help with our memory. Because we process information spatially, it’s easier for us to remember items on a list than in paragraph form. Even when we’re apart from the information – say in an exam, or leaving your grocery list at home – we’re more likely to recall the information because you can visualise where the information is on the page.

  • Lists make us feel good. According to psychologist Timothy Pychyl, half of us write something on a list after we’ve completed it just to feel a rush when we cross it off (List me on this list!). We list for the thrill of it!

  • We’re snacking. We are checking the news more often but for shorter amounts of time. Lists allow us to break down large amounts of information into bite size pieces that are easy to digest.

  • The more we know about something, the greater the chance we will commit to it. Lists, and especially listicles, with their promise of an end, allow us to quickly work through information. And we love the rush of knowing we’re able to accomplish something.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Trouper Cooper

My friend Trelise Cooper was made a Dame in the New Zealand New Year’s Honours list. The award was made for services to the fashion industry and to the community. Congratulations Dame Trelise!

Being one of New Zealand's most successful and internationally accomplished fashion designers with clients including Liv Tyler, Miley Cyrus, Stevie Nicks, Catherine Zeta Jones and Julia Roberts might sound glamorous – it is! With ten flagship boutiques worldwide plus over two hundred stockists across Europe, America, Asia and Australasia,  her brand has presence on the international fashion stage. She believes fashion is The Theatre of Dreams, and celebrating all that it means to be a woman is at the forefront of her elaborate and spectacular fashion. In 2010 Trelise was selected by Air New Zealand to create their new uniform.  Over 90,000 garments have been produced to create a wardrobe that is worn by more than 5,000 staff in New Zealand and around the world.

But it is for her determined community work that Trelise truly deserves the Queen’s top honour. Empathetic, creative and passionate, Trelise is well known and respected for her philanthropy and sponsoring of causes in New Zealand and abroad. She is the Patron of the Breast Cancer Research Trust which has the goal of finding a cure for breast cancer by 2018, and an active supporter of Habitat for Humanity. In 2009 Trelise took a team of 50 to Thailand to spend a week building houses for Habitat for Humanity. And through one of her Indian fabric suppliers Trelise became a sponsor of Tomorrow’s Foundation, a charity in Kolkata which educates, feeds and aims to empower children of the slums to be independent of the cycle of poverty. 

In 2012 Trelise was invited by CNN to be part of their Fusion Journeys series which took six international stars of the creative world on a journey to a different culture, where they created something inspired by their experience. Trelise was filmed in India, a country she has been travelling to for over 10 years, working with suppliers to discover and use the different types of heritage embroidery skills handed down through family generations in villages around India, each specialising in different stitch work.  The CNN series connected Trelise with Maritage, a UN partner organization which makes connections between women from developing and developed countries to promote sustainable income for women. She will make a speech to an event at the UN in New York in March as Maritage’s honorary fashion designer.

And to truly demonstrate the level commitment Trelise has to the community, she was named Patron of Auckland’s Returned Services Association for War Veterans, the first woman to hold this position in its 96 year history.  She has family's connections to World War I through an uncle who was a commander and her stepson served in the army. With Anzac Day this year marking 100 years since the commencement of WWI, Poppy Day on April 25 will be even more special.

Life is a Ladder; Climb It

A year is too long! Have you too found that it’s impossible to get anything significant done if you use the annual calendar as a framework for success?

It’s counter intuitive to think that too much time can prevent individuals, couples, communities, companies, and even countries from flourishing in their ambition. The more time we have the better, right? Wrong, and I will explain why. The demarcation and significance of January 1st draws excessive attention considering that it is an arbitrary date by nature in most modern settings. Guardian writer Oliver Burkeman describes this phenomenon well in his article: ‘Must a year last 52 weeks?

I know there are ancient, agrarian, and astronomical reasons why January 1 is the start of our new year, but in a contemporary world, where 24/7 information dominates, what makes January 1 different from say June 19? Well besides a ball dropping at 12am and celebrations taking place around the world, the truth is that it isn’t all that different. In fact, every day would be the same if you treated it as such. 

We choose to put so much emphasis on January 1, imagine if you put that kind of excitement into every day of your life? Certainly this is difficult task – we are all human – peaks and valleys bombard our daily lives. Yet all it takes to give 100% effort every day is a change in perspective, a change in time.

Instead of fashioning our goals and targets year to year, smaller, bite sized portions of time will better serve ambitions. Here’s some actionable advice:

100 Day Plans are much more effective than annual ones.  100 Day Plans require focus and commitment. They help you keep on track with what’s most important (not just what’s most urgent) in the center of all your decisions.

Reinforce your aspirations with something tangible, write down your long-term goals, and break them down into smaller ones. Lists and attention to detail will only serve you well when making an effective plan. 

Think specifics. Ask yourself what are 5-10 things you can do in the next 100 days to reach that goal. Make a plan and execute. Before you know it, you will be putting check marks next to your goals, giving 100% in every aspect of your life, and you will have accomplished more in a few weeks than you could have over an entire year. 

Make your aspirations grandiose, but remain humble as you move forward.  Approach your goals in smaller more manageable segments, and I promise your definition of success will grow and mature alongside you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Holy Trinity

As much as we would like to think that in 2014 our world is completely customizable, the fact remains that certain laws of nature cannot be overcome.  Just like gravity keeps us grounded, numbers are similarly powerful when it comes to affecting the human mind.

According to marketing and behavioral-science professors Kurt Carlson of Georgetown University and Suzanne Shu of the University of California, Los Angeles, in their study titled When Three Charms but Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings, three is the perfect number in terms of aesthetics. 

To reach this conclusion the professors presented manufactured “persuasive scenarios” to hundreds of undergraduate students with as few as one and as many as six reasons to choose the product.  They gauged the perception, reaction, and attitude of the participants on things like breakfast cereal, billboard ads, politicians, as well as relationships.  In the end their study concluded that the overwhelming majority of people typically prefer things in sets of three.

In ads, stump speeches (Barack Obama’s "Yes We Can" speech included more than a dozen triples) and other messages understood to have manipulative intent, three claims will persuade, but four (or more) will trigger skepticism, and reverse an initially positive impression. “You reach maximal streakiness at three events, and we thought maybe there's a similar thing going on in discourse," Kurt Carlson said.

In one scenario posited by the professors, a hypothetical friend says that John is "intelligent, kind, funny and cute." At the fourth word, the subjects' eyebrows, and skepticism, popped upward. Given four reasons, respondents were more likely to answer that the friend was "kidding herself about how great John is," than they were to conclude, as they did at three, that "John is a real catch."

When I look at our own language constructs at Saatchi & Saatchi, I find “Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy” to be the three elements of Lovemarks. Our spirit is embedded in three words: “Nothing Is Impossible.” And the holy grail of marketing is expressed as “Loyalty Beyond Reason.”

Three is not a universal rule (there were four Beatles, five Jacksons, a sixth sense, seven deadly sins, eight lucky numbers, nine lives and ten Commandments), but for me three is the optimum number for actions to take, words to live by and days in an ideal weekend.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Creativity Breeds Creativity

Typically, consumers are at the end of the product chain. They’re the recipients of ideas dreamed up, built and sold by someone else. That’s how the market works. Supply and demand and all that jazz. Right?

In the Age of Now, what we are seeing is that passive consumerism is rapidly evolving into aggressive consumer-driven innovation. People are on the front foot. If they believe they can improve something, they’re not waiting to see if its creators or brand owners will do it. They’re modifying the product themselves. People are less willing to accept products that don’t work for them. Welcome to participatory consumption.

For business, there’s always an opportunity if you can learn to recognize one. The momentum of consumer participation is not going to slow down. People will continue to adapt products to their personal needs. They’re going to tinker with them. We’ve been doing it forever anyway. Most men will have created a new tool out of existing ones in the shed to do a job, or have shaped sporting equipment to suit their style. But they don’t market their triumphs. They just use them.

With a bit of research and encouragement, businesses can embrace the brain power of their existing consumers by understanding how they’re using their product, and how they’re changing it to suit a specific need. More uses, more users, better product, better sales. Consumer-drive innovation isn’t a threat. It’s creativity on tap. Embrace it.