Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pay to Quit

Image source: IB Times

Amazon’s new Pay to Quit scheme has given a twist to Vince Lombardi’s line “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm then you’ll be fired with enthusiasm”. Perhaps stung by criticism that working in its distribution centers gives new meaning to Frederick Winslow Taylor idea of the time and motion study, Amazon has instituted a scheme that offers a no strings, no questions, one-off payment of $5000 to staff at Amazon’s fulfillment centers should they choose to resign. It’s a straight-up offer. Jeff Bezos wants his staff to be happy in their work, determined that Amazon is the right place for them, and not to have any unhappy travelers onboard.

A 2013, Gallup-Healthways survey estimated that unhappiness among workers in America cost $300 billion per year in lost productivity. A recent experiment by the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick found that happiness can boost productivity by up to 10 per cent. A happy worker uses their time more effectively without sacrificing on quality.

Here’s to happy companies.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Travel 2024

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We can look at emerging technologies and social behavior to get a sense for how things are set to develop. Skyscanner have done a Future of Travel report– and 2024 looks more Jetsons than ever.
The initial insights hint at a future very different from todays. It’s no surprise that it is heavily impacted by technology. Here a few things that we should expect:
  • Inspiration Will Come from Artificial Intelligence – Thinking about the ideal trip will be a breeze.  Thanks to the devices in our lives constantly learning about what we do and don’t like, they’ll be able to make suggestions on where we might want to go. We’ll be able to ask them questions about where to go based on our desire for cocktails on the beach, or cocktails in the snow, and it will recommend a destination based on real-world information.
  • Pre-Experience Through Virtual Reality – Want to really see what your room at the hotel in Bali will look like before you get there? Virtual reality headsets will show you. Plus with tactile technologies being developed by the likes of Disney, you will be able to feel your environment too.
  • E-Tour Guides – A wearable ‘E-agent’ will travel with us, letting us know about dining, adventure and hotel options based on our preferences. Walking around the Sofia in Istanbul, these agents will be able to tell us little facts that it thinks we’ll find interesting too.
  • Barrier Removed – Wearable technologies (and these technologies will make Google Glass look primitive) will also help to remove barriers like language when reading menus and ordering food.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Googling You Back

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Restaurants nowadays are all about getting people on and off seats as quickly as possible. Good food and wine are often coupled with upselling and fast service. There is no time to hear about your day. Yet there are those restaurants that are still committed to the true dining experience.

New York’s Eleven Madison Park takes its customer experience so seriously it Google’s every one of its guests before they arrive. It’s not just casually checking them out online but an IQ tactic the restaurant uses to become as familiar as possible with its diners: "If I find out a guest is from Montana, and I know we have a server from there, we'll put them together,” says maître d’ Justin Roller. It’s all part of the restaurant’s way of making guests feel like they’re feeling comfortable in one of New York’s most special places.

In addition to trying to find out a little more about its guests, each station has a dedicated four person staff – a captain, a sommelier, a server and an assistant server. And everyone walks away with an after dinner gift. This is after you sample an array of international wines and enjoy a multi-course tasting menu – which they can tailor to the individual.

At a time where there is such an acute focus on food, being able to show an equally acute genuine interest in a guest – and not just because the diner is a regular – could be the difference between quickly building a loyal customer base or closing one’s doors.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

10 Ways to Keep Your Friends

TIME Magazine recently revealed a sorry list detailing 10 ways to lose your friends. Being a relentless optimist, it is only right that someone draws up a counter list. So here is my response – a gender neutral guide to keeping and enhancing your friendships.

1. Reminisce – Talk about good times – the fun times, the glorious failures and the magnificent maybe’s. Best performed under the influence of a shared bottle of red.

2. Make time for new adventures. Doesn’t matter what or where. Get off the couch and create new moments to share and remember.

3. Be generous. With your time, mostly. Offer a hand when it’s needed, without being asked. No thank you’s required.

4. Share food. Nothing like a good meal to help nostalgia reign.

5. Seek advice. And don’t blame anyone if it doesn’t go to plan.

6. Be there. Even when you’re busy. Take the call. Answer the email or text. Send a photo.

7. Trust them. Tell them what’s happening in your life. What matters to you. What your hopes and dreams are.

8. Be honest. Call them out (gently) when they’re wrong. Show you care enough when it really matters.

9. Love. Put their needs ahead of yours. Show warmth and affection. Even the manly variety.

10. Never forget. You can’t make Old Friends.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brazil – Sun, Sand, Samba & Soccer

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I’ve just spent the best part of a week in Sao Paulo, the largest city of the world’s fifth largest country and host to the opening game of the World Cup on June 12. It was a talking trip: meetings and presentations, dinners and drinks, negotiations and combat, inspiration and joy. Brazil is just that sort of place, physical intensity and emotional liveliness coming at you from all points.

There is a lot being written by world economic and political commentators about Brazil on the eve of the World Cup, and a lot of it is not especially positive. The fact these headlines could be about many countries is not mitigation. World Cups and Olympics are meant to be peak moments for hosts, so its my hope that in the next seven weeks the PR and communications maestros of this fun and festive nation put on their best party hats and story lines and show the world that this is a country to be taken seriously…and to be enjoyed enormously.

One of my presentations was at the company that makes Havaianas, Alpargatas, the largest public footwear company in Latin America . Havaianas are a global Lovemark and all the more so for their multicultural origins – created by a Scotsman Robert Fraser who had migrated to Brazil to manufacture low cost footwear, inspired by Japanese zori sandals, with the brand meaning “Hawaiians” in Portuguese. Don’t ask questions, just go with it, it’s Brazil and they make 150 million pairs a year.

Havaianas represented a face of Brazil that people (including , most importantly, Brazilians) love – vibrant colors, youthfulness, sensuality, joy and fun. Let this spirit permeate World Cup 2014 – and let the parallel story rapidly emerge about abundant natural resources, energy and food independence, sophisticated manufacturing, vibrant media, a functional democracy, and a passionate people.

There’s a big story to tell Brazil, don’t miss your moment, on the field or off it. Go Neymar!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Revolution starts with Language

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If you’ve ever wondered why English, Tamil, Korean, Arabic, Montenegrin, Swahili and French languages are suspiciously similar – because I’m sure you have – it’s not because of their shared speed, charismatic twang or romantic lilts. It’s because each language is based in a strong future tense.

There are an estimated 7,000 different languages in the world, but despite this variety, there are essentially only two types: those with a strong future tense, such as English, and those with a weak future tense, such as German, Cantonese, Swedish and Kikuyu. Much to the upset of linguists, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that language directly affects the behavior or thought in the speaker.

UCLA economist Keith Chen has built on the hypothesis for a paper in the American Economic Review last year. Chen suggests that because strong future tense speakers distinguish the future from the present, the speakers create a distance from their future. This creates a hedonist attitude in the speaker and as a result they eat, smoke, drink and spend more, with little consideration for their health. He also argues it impacts on corporate social responsibility.

Those who use a weak future tense language, such as Danish, actually have a stronger sense of their future as they interchange the future for the present in their speech. This means that they save more, prepare for their retirement and are concerned with their health.

Swedish linguist Osten Dahl disagrees with Chen’s findings suggesting that he fails to provide a causal connection between language and behavior, rather than merely a correlation. But anyone who’s watched a Scandinavian detective series will agree their disgruntled killers are met.

To view the original article at io9 click here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Beating Hollywood Sexism Makes Money

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Despite The Hunger Games’ box office domination and the incredible drawing power of Disney’s Frozen – both starring strong, lead female characters – there is still an underlying belief in America that audiences prefer male-anchored films.

The typical thinking is that when you’ve got a strong male lead (think Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise) – and the plot revolves around them, cash registers will sing. This Hollywood wisdom also suggests hat that international markets don’t want to see women in film.

The reality of women in movies has been mapped in a 2013 study by Stacy Smith, an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California: the top 100 grossing films of 2012, women accounted for 4.1 percent of directors, 12.2 percent of writers and 20 percent of producers, according to. Of 4,475 speaking roles in those films, 28.4 percent were women.

Using the Bechdel Test which measures gender equality in film-making, Walt Hickey of ESPN’s blog FiveThirtyEight analyzed 1,615 films released between 1990 and 2013. For a movie to pass the test, it must feature at least two named women having a conversation with each other about something or somebody other than a man. (Multi Oscar-winning sensation Gravity failed the test because Sandra Bullock could only talk to herself while lost in space).

Hickey reports that contrary to conventional Hollywood school of thought, movies that passed the Bechdel test were found to be just as likely to be profitable than those that didn’t, and also appeared to outperform expectations.

“We found that the data doesn’t appear to support the persistent Hollywood belief that films featuring women do worse at the box office. Instead, we found evidence that films that feature meaningful interactions between women may in fact have a better return on investment, overall, than films that don’t.

“It’s another case of tired, institutionalized thinking that has no basis in reality. In this case, because men dominate movie studios and have done so for decades. But maybe, just maybe, seeing the dollars will help them see sense.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wellbeing Index

Define. Measure. Act. Those are the three words used to describe the city of Santa Monica’s latest Wellbeing Project. The project aims to define wellbeing as it relates to the roughly 92,000 person community and monitor various aspects of this wellbeing. The aim? Create a Local Wellbeing Index which will be used to get a sense of the communities’ strengths and challenges, and to use this information to guide city policies and allocate resources to improve conditions needed for the city to thrive.

The project defines ‘wellbeing’ as personal satisfaction with life, influenced by social connections, economic stability, safety, surroundings, employment fulfillment, civic engagement and health. It will use quantitative and qualitative information, such as crime statistics and school attendance rates, as well as personal surveys and behavioral analytics.

Santa Monica hopes that its Wellbeing Index will be adopted around the US to help direct local government policy; policy that is driven by evolving citizen need and desire rather than political whim.

A city that understands the needs of its people will be better able to serve them. When cities can better address need, desire and wellbeing, citizens will in turn be willing to invest in their communities and environment. Improving wellbeing for all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Free Advice

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We may be from different sides of the pond, but Tom Friedman and I are on the same side on the idea of the future – Average is over. There is no room now and ever again for being okay. Be the best or start looking somewhere else.

Saatchi S CEO Annie Longsworth recently had the chance to see Friedman speak. And these are the five pieces of wisdom she took away from the experience. They certainly kick-start the brain into thinking.

1. Be like an immigrant – a paranoid optimist. i.e. pursue opportunities more energetically, persistently and creatively than anybody else.

2. Be like an artist – full of pride for your work with complete commitment to your craft.

3. Always be in beta – be willing (and eager) to learn, relearn and relearn again (further to this, always question how you can improve, improve, improve).

4. Remember that PQ (passion quotient) and CQ (curiosity quotient) are greater than IQ. (To this point I would add that you need to always consider your EQ (emotion quotient), your TQ (technological quotient) and your BQ (your body quotient be bloody quick!)

5. Be like the waitress from Perkins Pancake House – know what you control and how be entrepreneurial with it. To illustrate this point, Friedman describes an experience he had at the pancake house in his hometown. The waitress didn’t control much, but she did control the fruit ladle. She demonstrated her entrepreneurial instinct and brought Friedman and his friend extra fruit, earning herself a 50% tip!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reading the News Receipt

While we live in the screen-age and tend to be surgically attached to some device at any given time, restaurants The Old Ebbitt Grill and its sister, The Hamilton, both in the heart of Washington D.C, are proving that there’s still an appetite for news well done and printed.

The Grill has introduced news receipts courtesy of editor Leland Schwartz, whose brainchild is Print Signal. One receipt prints a breakdown of the customer’s order and a separate receipt provides an update from the top dozen AP news stories, including the weather and stocks. Print Signal’s feed from the AP refreshes every two minutes. Customers, apparently, find the updates “compelling”.

t's also not totally a new idea: 23 years ago, Schwartz introduced "The Latest News" as a newspaper printed every hour and handed out to airline passengers. On April 22nd The Latest News launches at The Palm restaurants in DC is a pre-cursor to take the news updates to New York, Boston, Chicago and all the 28 Palm locations, including Denver, Dallas, Houston, LA, San Diego and Miami. Also look for The Latest News at all 14 Clyde’s restaurants in DC. The plan is to move into the 50 state capitals and into the top 50 foreign capitals—or, as Schwartz puts it, a movement that would turn restaurant receipt machines into a “worldwide printing press.”

Frank Mankiewicz, former press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy, was one of the Washington journalists behind the idea. Despite print media naysayers, Mankiewicz held to his conviction that the news receipts would take off. He maintains a lifelong belief in the human connectivity to paper. The touch and feel is unique. It can’t be replicated.

As Steve Jobs said, creativity is all about connecting things. Connecting news and restaurant receipts sounds like a Lovemark to me.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Back On Bloomberg

This week I was invited back to Bloomberg Surveillance with Tom Keene, Scarlet Fu and Erik Schatzker. We covered a wide range of subjects including American banking, nuclear power, the Bull Market and the All Blacks playing in the USA (1.11.13 – 1.13.34).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mass Mob

Pope Francis is stimulating a resurgence in Catholicism worldwide. I have written before about his early moves to break down the walls of the Papacy, and the “Francis Effect” continues as he has started: declaring himself to be ‘ordinary’, saying “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gays, uttering the f*** word, making his confession to an rank-and-file priest, and even taking a meeting with Noah star Russell Crowe. He also had a major swipe at the Italian Mafia – just last week reputed to have a turnover bigger than the entire budget of the European Union – by saying “Repent or end up in hell”.

A new movement called “Mass Mobs” – unrelated to his targeting of the Mafia – has sprung up in Buffalo New York. As reported by local news channel, they are intended to draw large congregations via social media to experience some of Buffalo’s great Catholic churches that many residents have forgotten about in recent years.

A week ago the third and largest mass mob in Buffalo focused on St. John Kanty Church in east Buffalo’s Polonia neighborhood. This historic church is only about one-eighth full on most typical Sundays, but on March 23 about 800 people came to the congregation.

Gregory Witul, one of the event organizers, explained the goal of a Mass mob, “We thought, hey, wouldn’t it be great to get people to come out to some of these neglected Catholic churches, check out some of the wonderful architecture, the beautiful stained glass, the mural work.”

Father Bob Pecoraro of St. John Kanty Church said that “To get up to the altar and turn around and see the church filled to capacity, it brings an energy.”

The parish, established in 1892, also can see a renewed energy to the collection plate. “These parishes were built by Catholics who really had pennies. They practically had no money at all and they built these grand structures to show their love for their religion,” Witul said.

It’s a movement that is now spreading across the country. The New York Times reports that Mass mobs have formed in Rochester, New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and near New Orleans.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mondrian for Dessert?

When two different things come together and complement each other, art happens. Lennon and McCartney, Jobs and Ives, Fred and Ginger. With the Modern Art Cookbook, food and art come together in a wonderful, mysterious way that is, literally, a feast for the eyes.

From Cezanne to Warhol and everyone before, between, and since, the art world has a long-standing relationship with food. Whether subject or muse, food has been threaded through art history. The relationship might seem a bit one-sided, with art more often pouring its adoration into food, but the Modern Art Cookbook allows you to create food influenced by great works of the last two centuries.

Imagine partnering the works of artists like Mary Cassat and Gustav Klimt with the recipes of Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo. What a fusion across time and place!

A similarly themed cookbook – but with a sweet tooth, Modern Art Desserts, uses images of food in art housed within the walls of SFMOMA to inspire culinary masterpieces. So you get Piet Mondrian cake and Henri Matisse’s Allan Stein parfait.

So the next time you plan a meal, get a bit inventive. Have a creative start to the day and make your own Rothko with toast at breakfast.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Happy Straddler

The straddle generation. Not a term you’re likely to have heard before, but if you’re like me, you’re in it. Kim Hastreiter, editor of Papermag, has penned a superb column on what it’s like to have witnessed, and lived, the biggest transformation the world has seen. Don’t take my word for it. Read it for yourself.

She’s talking, of course, about the shift from analog to digital. The restructuring of power bases. The Age of Ideas. Where everyone has a voice. Distance is irrelevant. Opportunity abounds. The brave storm the podium. And while where change travels apace, we still seek comfort in simplicity.

I only need to close my eyes to see the 70s. A decade when BIC invented the disposable lighter. The VCR was introduced to the world. Personal computers were built, with floppy discs – tech that took another decade to really get a life. I worked with pen and paper. Gave presentations with slide boards. Today? What a different world. It’s a privilege to be a straddler. To have lived in two vastly different eras, and to have loved both. After all, while so much has changed, as Kim says, so much has stayed the same (like my love and use of pen, paper and fax).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Happiness = Fundamental Goal

Two years ago, the United Nations identified that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, hence International Happiness Day was born. Happiness Day this year (March 20) probably got its biggest boost thanks to the support of man of the hour, Pharrell Williams and his global hit – Happy.

For many, happiness can mean singing, blue skies and sunshine, exercise, travel, special treats, looking at pictures of baby animals or even volunteering.

For many others, happiness can mean sustaining your family, living a purposeful life, working to make the world a better place, and praying – the correlation between church-going and happiness is shown in many surveys of the world’s most happiest countries.

Part of the purpose of Happiness Day is “recognizing the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples”.

Though the day has been and gone, there is always room amongst day-to-day routines to know that the actions we might take could be doing to improve happiness – our own and others – and how these actions may lead to bigger things.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Giving Kids 20% Time

Schools around the US are being inspired by Google’s “20% time” initiative and are giving 20% of their class time to student-led passion projects. Some students are making robots, some are learning a new language. Students in Michigan are documenting Detroit, while a group of girls in Illinois are using their time researching running shoes.

The 20-Time in Education movement is being used across grades to make students do their own research on a topic of their choice, ask their own questions and form their own conclusions along the way. It’s getting them ready for the real world.

Michigan teacher Nicholas Provenzano recently introduced the idea to some of his classes. In his list of commandments for the project: failure is an option. An important lesson, if you’re willing to learn from it.

Kids are constantly taught to avoid failure, but without the experience we start to fear it. It leads to stress and safe decisions. And who ever heard of an innovation coming from a safe decision? I want the creation by the tried and tried again entrepreneur.

20% Time is a great way to give children a safe place to explore their ideas and build resilience against fear of failure. It’s a guarantee that they will end up on their feet in the end.

Picture shows Jesse Pratt, third-grader at Warner Elementary School in Spring Arbor, Michigan, who learned how to make a marble run. He used class time to design the marble run and built the final product at home with his father. Read more about 20% Time and the ‘Genius Hour’ at CNN.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Read a book, save a life

There is a furor in Britain between writers and the UK Secretary of Justice Chris Grayling about his ban on sending books to prisoners. Grayling claims that the system is overwhelmed by packages being sent to prisons, and that these packages run a likelihood of containing drugs and contraband. He says that prisons have libraries and this should suffice for the literary needs of prisoners. Hundreds of writers have disagreed.

Let’s take a few steps back, because the relationship between incarceration and literacy – or rather illiteracy – applies worldwide. In an ideal world, people would not commit crime and there would not be a need for prisons. We don’t live in an ideal world however, and prisons are necessary to protect society from those who deviate from the rules of civil society. Greed and conflict part of the human condition. That being said, there is a proven and inextricable link between crime and low literacy.

• 70% of prisoners fall into the lowest two levels of reading proficiency (National Institute for Literacy, 1998).
• 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
• Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help.

In the US prison-industrial complex, there is evidence that one of the factors that the state of Arizona bases its projections on prison construction includes the illiteracy levels of fourth graders.

An analysis would show that the costs of expanding reading programs, especially those in prisons (where they scarcely exist) would benefit society in multiple ways – reducing crime and fractured families, reducing the cost of administering justice and of putting people in prison repeatedly, and improving purpose, hope and optimism. The institutionally racist and corrupt relationships between commercial prison systems and law enforcement authorities, for example in the state of Louisiana – the world’s prison capital whose incarceration rate is nearly five times Iran's, 13 times China's and 20 times Germany's – would be drastically broken if many more people could read.

The role of business – and governments – is to make the world a better place. If would be a much better place if the governments and the prison industry worked like crazy to foster reading programs and keep people out of prisons.

Here’s a program to look at,, and I liked this: SureShot Books sends books to inmates in prisons all over the Unites States. The company keeps its promise of helping inmates further their education through sending them various reading materials both in Spanish and English. Education is important and inmates, even though they have wronged the society at one time or another gravely, deserve the right to improve themselves through further education. SureShot Books believe that books, magazines, newspapers, and other reading materials are tools that these inmates can use in order to further their education and acquire new knowledge that will help them improve how they deal with life. Therefore, the company has been steadfast in its goal to keep being the bridge for these incarcerated brothers to education.