Thursday, August 28, 2014

Smell the Color

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What does blue smell like? In my mind, the ocean. And red? I think of roses, of love. International researchers have been exploring the link between our senses to see how we interpret smell into color. Their results reported in The Atlantic are interesting mostly for the differences that cropped up between cultures.

It’s logical, as where we live gives us different environmental and cultural associations. Some scents have obvious links to colors. Hazelnut, wood, vegetables. But then if you were to get the scent of soap, or plastic, the color you associate with it is more individual. It would be dependent on the color of the soap you use, or how you use plastic. Germans and the Dutch go for brighter colors for plastic, Americans tend to go for grey, white or black mostly.

What the study doesn’t explore is whether these scents and the colors selected by participants are triggered by nostalgia, particularly around generic smells like plastic. I wouldn’t be surprised if the colors I chose came from my childhood. The first immersion if you like. Smell is probably the best memory trigger we have.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Legacy and Longevity

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In an interesting prologue from The Living Company run on Businessweek, there are some insightful musings on why most companies fail prematurely. The author cites research covering Japan and Europe that shows the average age of any business is 12.5 years. For Fortune 500 companies, it’s 40-50 years. People live comfortably longer lives than companies. And we are flesh and bone. I think there’s some truth in this observation:

“Companies die because their managers focus on the economic activity of producing goods and services, and they forget that their organizations’ true nature is that of a community of humans. The legal establishment, business educators, and the financial community all join them in this mistake.”

Business Insider picked up on this theme recently by creating a list of the world’s oldest companies. Working through it the themes for success aren’t surprising. Aside from the most basic of business principles – offering quality goods and services people want – for many it’s a commitment to a legacy that pushes them to consistently deliver.

The first, and oldest, company on this list sums up how the drive to ensure a legacy leads to longevity. Japan’s Nisiyama Onsen Keiunkan opened in 705. It’s the oldest running hotel in the world, operated by the same family for 52 generations, with staff whose families have held the same posts for generations. Remarkable. Success takes hard work. Longevity requires management to dream of a legacy that every employee wants to be a part of.

Check out the full list here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Creativity for a Long Life

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Take a look at Yoko Ono. You wouldn’t think from her creative output that she’s 81. Picasso died at 91 still peaking. Cézanne considered himself a better artist in his 60s. Darwin published The Origin of Species at 50. Pete Seeger, before he passed this year, was still performing at 93. Willie Nelson is 81. Warren Buffett is almost 84. Frank Gehry is 85 and had just unveiled one of the most desired buildings in Paris in the last century. My old friend Robin Dyke published his first book of poems in his 70s.

What does creativity have to do with health and longevity? A study “Openness to Experience and Mortality in Men: Analysis of Trait and Facets” by Nicholas Turiano, Avron Spiro and Daniel Mroczek found that creativity might delay cognitive and physical decline. The study, however, can’t pin the exact reason for this. One of the reasonings is that “creative people find better ways of coping with their diminishing capabilities than their less resourceful counterparts.”

Everyone can adopt the facets of creativity that can help ward of the signs of aging. Experimentation, openness to new ideas, and flexibility in dealing with changes are three such creative cornerstones. These don’t seem restrictive to just the artists amongst us. The point is not to get stuck in sticking to the same and safe, but to stay mentally and physically active and challenged. I have said this before – take risks! Who knows? You might want to take up painting when you’re 65. The benefits are sure to outweigh the nonsense you might produce. Ask G.W. Bush (68).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Trains, The Place To Fall in Love

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Forget the plane, skip the car, and don’t even think about the bus. Trains are the most romantic way to travel. According to research from East Coast Trains, one in 10 people admit to falling in love on the train. Over a third of those surveyed said rail travel is synonymous with finding love. This gem of an insight is something the rail industry should embrace wholeheartedly.

What makes trains so much more romantic than other modes of transport? One could say that buses are cheaper, but they have the long-held reputation as being unfriendly, uncomfortable and unhygienic. Air travel offers convenience and speed, but hardly offers a glimpse of what’s in between. A train ride, however, can be a destination in itself. The Orient Express, the Ghan, Seven Stars, The Danube Express. My local steam engines on the Windermere Lakeside and Haverthwaite run, and the magical Ravenglass and Eskdale run also offer a very enjoyable journey. Train journeys now offer a modernized take on old-fashioned charm. Japan has some of the most luxurious trains in the world, with upcoming models even being designed by the likes of Ferrari.

When it comes down to it, what I think trains offer are the luxury of time and space for intimate conversation. The Glacier Express in Switzerland is one of the most famous train journeys in Europe, with a leisurely 7-hour ride taking travellers through stunning alpine views. Although it has the reputation of being the “slowest express train in the world”, their tagline shows they know what people want: “A train to fall in love with”.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Citizens of the WWW (Whole Wide World)

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently opined on the state of America and the disparity between generations. You have older people who grieve the alleged demise of the US as a global superpower, while youth seem unfazed. Young people see themselves as global citizens. Patriotism doesn’t set them alight so easily.

As an explanation to why this is happening, Maureen quotes BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith: “They’re more interested in this moment of crazy opportunity, with the massive economic and cultural transformation driven by Silicon Valley. And kids feel capable of seizing it. Technology isn’t a section in the newspaper any more. It’s the culture.”

He’s right. The technological transformation has been swift, even more so over the past five years. Youth feel empowered. Powerful. They have a voice; tools; distribution. They’re globally connected and media savvy. Unbridled. Nothing is impossible. Culture is by technology.

Douglas Adams: “Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Black Tie Day

I haven’t worn a tie for a decade or two, but today was the exception as the New Zealand Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae held an investiture ceremony in Auckland for recipients of New Zealand Honours. My award – the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit – was for “services to business and the community”. All I can say is: “Thank you.” Also being recognised today was my friend John Hood, former Vice Chancellor at Auckland and Oxford Universities, who was knighted for services to tertiary education. There was just the right amount of pomp and ceremony but being New Zealand there was a charming aura of generosity and community. A day to remember.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Winning Curiosity of Lee Child

Jack Reacher. A character that is more than enticing. He grabs you in a bear hug and hauls you along for the ride. You can taste his rage with every injustice he encounters. What has always struck me about Lee Child’s books are the obscure details and references about cars, landscapes, mannerisms, chains of command and long distance rifle shooting. You might say that such observations are simply tools of the trade for a novelist, but Child has a way of making his books so unshakeably American. Yet Jim Grant (Lee Child being a pseudonym), is very British (Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester, Cumbria, some of my stomping grounds past and present), albeit a resident of New York since 1998.

I can imagine American fans being surprised by this when they hear that someone who maps the badlands of America is transplanted from Great Britain. Reacher, an American hero with a bent for vengeance, was created by the lanky Brit from the Northwest who used to work in a Manchester TV studio as a presentation director involved in the transmission of more than 40,000 hours of programming for Granada, writing thousands of commercials and news stories. No wonder he has an eye for detail. Child wrote his first Reacher book at his kitchen table. A book set in Georgia, USA.

I came across an interview with Lee Child recently that broached the topic of his ability to create authenticity through observation. In his words: “I’m an aficionado about everything. I like to know how things work. I see situations and I absorb and remember them.” His talent for observation, and ability to weave all sorts of bizarre facts and references, is what has always enabled the Reacher series to avoid a stale death. The beauty is that Child can take you anywhere because of his curiosity to know how everything works. I doubt he even knows how many books he has sold now, but it’s in the tens of millions.

Lee Child’s new book Personal is due soon. I’m just finishing Daniel Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon story, The Heist, so September 2 rolls around very nicely.

Monday, August 18, 2014

It’s A Kind Of Magic

Here’s an interesting fact from an article in the New York Times. Did you know that an algorithm is only marginally better than human instinct at predicting whether a tweet should be retweeted? The difference in success is only 6%, which shows that even though Big Data can improve our chances of reaching an outcome by calculating hundreds – if not thousands – of variables, the wild human mix of grey matter and emotion holds advantages that computers cannot replace.

Algorithms might know that a longer tweet or one saying ‘please’ might have a better chance of getting a retweet, but it won’t understand the emotional reasoning behind a person’s decision to. Data is unable to understand people’s responses to words, pictures or video or feel the emotions of the people it’s intended for. Numbers have the ability to show us why, but they can never make people do stuff. A great test score will not trump an incredible personality. An impressive number won’t deliver amazing chemistry. If you’re trying to make a sale, know your numbers but don’t neglect learning the emotional drivers that can take it from “maybe” to “absolutely!” As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is There a Right Kind of Sports Fan?

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There’s a great reflection on the heart of a sports fan on SB Nation’s Canis Hoopus blog. AverageJer asks himself questions that I am sure many a die-hard fan is familiar with:

“Is the loyalty worth it? When isn’t it? Some here have threatened to stop supporting the team if certain outcomes occur. Does this mean they are less of a fan or does it simply mean they have stopped deriving personal benefit from their efforts? I’m not one to judge these kinds of things but I am curious what other people think. Is there a right and a wrong way to root for a sports team? Is blind loyalty nothing more than blissful ignorance or is it an enlightened union with a force larger than the individual parts it’s made from? Help me out here friends, why do I do this day after day and how will I know when enough is enough?”

Is there a right kind of sports fan?

On one hand you have people who enjoy the game, but not so much as to revel in the glory and commiserate in the pain. These are apathetic fans. They tune in and out depending on results. Ship-jumpers who support a new team every few years.

Then you have the lifers. In it forever, thick or thin. Watching every game, analyzing every move, treating players like one of the family. Their wardrobes show team colors. Many have club tattoos on their body and bumper stickers on their cars. They know all the words to the club songs and are compendiums of historical knowledge.

Is one type of fan better for the sport than the other? Every type of fan takes a different perspective. Many loathe each other, for their intensity or lack of. In my younger years this all played out in the pub. Today, it’s a digital discussion.

But for me, sport has always been about the magnificent moment on the field of play, a dazzling movement, a winning score – and then the camaraderie of sharing it among friends and mates. Anyone who watches sport, participates in it, and learns to appreciate it enough to support it positively, should be welcomed. Teams need all kinds of fans to get behind their games. It’s what contributes to the competitiveness and electricity that you get when game play is on.

For a few hopping-off points, check out:

  • The Roar: Your Sports Opinion. From Australia. Read my friend Spiro Zavos’ commentary on the captaincy merits of Michael Hooper and Kieran Reid and the Waratahs’s last minute victory over the Crusaders for the Super Rugby title in the southern hemisphere. Did Reid (and McCaw) give the game away through poor decision-making in those final minutes when they where ahead 32-30?
  • Manchester United recently played Real Madrid in an exhibition game at ‘The Big House’ in Ann Arbor Michigan. See these fantastic photos from The Telegraph of the biggest crowd for a soccer game in the USA – 109,318 people! 
  • On 1 November the All Blacks play the USA Eagles at Soldier Field in Chicago. Will this be the biggest attendance for a rugby match in USA history? See you in the Windy City, and in the meantime here’s to the All Blacks this weekend who are set to take on the Wallabies in the first match of the Bledisloe Cup.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Grandkids Are The Best Revenge

A while back I was privileged to speak on the same bill about creativity with Francis Ford Coppola. Filmmaker, wine maker, hotelier and all round good guy. He said “The ultimate luxury is traveling with family. At a certain point in your life, you get the idea that if you buy a new car, it’s a thrill for about a week. Material objects are very short lived but a memory with your family lives forever.” Over the past three weeks I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with my grandkids in two of my favorite places… my home in Grasmere and the One & Only Palmilla, Los Cabos. Experiencing the world through the eyes of a 3 year old can’t be beat.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams

Photo credit: Kevin Stent, Sunday Star Times, 1998

We just lost a good man. Robin Williams. Comedian, actor, creative genius. And a rugby fan. I was on the board of the New Zealand Rugby Union in the late 1990s when the game was going professional and we were looking at lots of different ways of promoting the game and its stars, the biggest of which was #11 Jonah Lomu. An unlikely constellation of elements brought Jonah and Robin together in San Francisco for a memorable photo shoot. Robin had just been in Sydney promoting a movie and was being interviewed by Paul Holmes via satellite, but didn’t want to talk about the film, only rugby, and only the All Blacks. We got to thinking about whether there was a way to bring Robin into the All Blacks equation. Shortly thereafter Saatchi & Saatchi was heavily involved in the State of the World Forum in San Francisco and we set up one of the world’s first live conference websites – staffed by a group of young New Zealand journalists we had brought up for the event. I knew Jonah Lomu was passing through San Francisco at the time, so my friends at SweeneyVesty set about connecting with Robin Williams, which they did and succeeded with an invitation to Robin to come for a morning tea and photos with Jonah.

On the appointed morning he arrived at the steps of the famous Fairmont Hotel in an All Black cap ready for some rough and tumble. What Dreams May Come, directed by New Zealander Vincent Ward, was currently #1 at the US box office (Robin said with some measure of respect that Vincent was a “tough ass” director). The meet with Jonah was in the penthouse suite of the Fairmont, famous for being the venue in 1945 for President Harry S. Truman’s meeting with other world leaders to draft the charter that created the United Nations, and for its setting in several movies. Robin was gracious and he and Jonah huddled for about 40 minutes in quiet but intense conversation. It seemed off key to interrupt them for photos, but this was the purpose of the occasion, and Robin, a generous and consummate professional, uncoiled and leapt to the task, or rather leapt into Jonah’s arms, onto his shoulders, tackled him, scrummed with him, all for the lens of Sunday Star Times photographer Kevin Stent who was part of our conference media corp. Not surprisingly the photo made a big splash on the front page of next day’s Dominion. Jonah and Robin became lifelong friends, and New Zealand hosted the actor and his family on several occasions.

The hour or so with Robin Williams was one of the joys of life’s journey. May he be in peace.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Buying Art With Emotion

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Kosta Boda, a glass gallery in Sweden, recently awarded three artworks to the highest emotional bidder in an ‘Auction Based on Emotion’. The three pieces, valued between €1,900 and €15,000, were auctioned off during a one-time event where no money was exchanged – just heart beats and sweat.

None of the works were on display during the auction. So you had no idea what you were there to buy. The pieces up for grabs were each partitioned in make-shift rooms and concealed by a cloth laid over them. Each bidder was brought individually into each room, seated in front of the covered art, had sensors placed on the fingers of their right hand and had headphones placed over their ears.

At this point the piece had its great reveal for all of 60 seconds. In this time the bidder’s heart rate and hand sweat were monitored. After the time was up, the bidder was ushered to the next piece and the process was repeated again for the other 303 participants. The person who had the greatest emotional reaction to the piece took it home to be appreciated day after day. A fabulous idea. You can watch the experience here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Eyes Have It

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Have you ever had a conversation with someone with their eyes fixed over your shoulder? You turn to see what they’re so curious about to realize that they’re staring at nothing? Not the worst experience if your eyes reconnect and they’re the ones doing the talking. Worse, if over the course of the conversation someone breaks eye contact to check their phone.

In the first days of their lives, babies, with their blurred vision, will instinctively lock eyes with those around them. Also people who are less likely to give or receive eye contact are more likely to develop depression and feelings of isolation. So for the mental health of yourself and those you’re engaging with, lock eyes.

“Eye contact,” says Enid Montague, professor at Northwestern University, “is a really good surrogate for where attention is and the level of accord building in a relationship.” Meaning: Use your eyes to show someone your respect and interest. Eye contact makes us more social, more empathic, more likeable and trustworthy, allows us to make sense of relationships and helps us recognize people.

More than this, eyes are a good way to pick up on someone’s mood. A person’s face might be blank, but their eyes might be fuming. Their mouth might be smiling, but their eyes might be sad. Eyes give our game away, hence why professional poker players tend to choose sunglasses as a tactic of choice.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Emotion Trumps Data – Fortune

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If Fortune magazine declares it then it must be so. My opening line as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi 17 years ago, in a speech titled Hasta la Vista, Brand, was that emotions are the defining point of decision-making, be it a corporate executive about to make a big call, or a person standing in front of a supermarket shelf. Donald Calne, Canadian neuroscientist, who famously said “reason leads to conclusions; emotion leads to action!” Then came the question “what comes after brands?” Which led to Lovemarks.

A few days ago the Fortune Knowledge Group in association with the global advertising agency gyro launched a fantastic report which validates Calne, Daniel Kahneman and others, Only Human: The Emotional Logic of Business Decisions, which surveyed 720 senior business executives, revealing the undervalued role of emotion in business decisions.

It prefaces: “In the age of Big Data, it is often assumed that the rational and analytical are the primary drivers of business decision making. However, a new study…has found it is just the opposite—while a majority of senior business executives believe that data is an important tool when making business decisions, it is subjective factors such as company culture, values and reputation that truly play the pivotal role.”

Their key findings about the role of emotions in decision-making are:

  • Executives “trust their gut”: A majority (62%) of executives say it is often necessary to rely on gut feelings and soft factors.
  • Strong reputations and cultures win: When choosing a company to do business with, 70% of respondents cite reputation as the most influential factor. Company culture was also a top driver according to 53% of executives surveyed.
  • Analytical insight requires emotional insight: A majority (61%) of executives agree that when making decisions, human insights must precede hard analytics.
  • Positive gains outweigh negative risks: Most executives (68%) say that the ambition, admiration and potential rewards outweigh fear of failure and being blamed for making a bad call.
  • Long-term partnerships are the goal: The long-term gains are worth the short-term financial risks according to 71% of respondents.
Jed Hartman, group publisher worldwide of Time, Fortune and Money, says “Decision makers want to create a relationship that can lead to a successful, long-term partnership. As with any relationship, aspects like values, reputation, trust and emotion come to the forefront.”

“Business decisions are made emotionally and justified rationally,” says Christoph Becker, CEO of gyro. “A side effect of the tsunami of digital content is, too often, there is an utter lack of human relevance. That is why if you truly want to connect with business decision makers, you must make them feel. That is why you must focus on the ‘why’ of your business, the pure idea. The overwhelming desire to connect to this essence has been, and always will be, incredibly powerful.”

You can download an executive summary of the report here.

And for a reprise of the Big Data Big Emotion roustabout, check this op-ed I wrote last October about why logic can’t do without love.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Kiwi Crowdfunding

True creativity is an invaluable and indispensable quality that too few are lucky to possess. Even more difficult is finding the freedom to pursue your creative passions as a career. However following lifelong dreams has never been better with crowdfunding sites Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Gofundme. They have become platforms for people to springboard their dreams into reality using the generosity and support of the web. Three Kiwi projects to highlight:

Snowball Effect Created by a smart, experienced group of new generation New Zealand business movers, Snowball Effect aims to be New Zealand's leading equity crowdfunding platform, allowing emerging New Zealand businesses to obtain funding from their most passionate supporters, customers, users, and interested members of the public. They enable people to buy shares in companies that were previously inaccessible to the public. Their vision is "a New Zealand economy, fuelled by emerging businesses, backed by everyday Kiwi investors". This is not investment advice – but look out for what they have to present, there is a strongly emergent wave of New Zealand entrepreneurs taking on the world from the edge.

Billy and his Digger On Kickstarter. Written and illustrated by Justine Summers, this book is about a boy, his favorite toy, and the limitlessness of his imagination – a simple and charming story about the power of creativity. Five star idea from this grandfather. 27 days to reach $5K to make book production possible.

A Side of Peaches and Honey On Indiegogo. A short film written by Brooklyn/LA NZer Jackie Maw Tolliver, A Side of Peaches and Honey is inspired by true events and the little known story from the 1950’s about how two waitresses foiled a Russian mission to steal the drawings of the world’s first atomic submarine. Her last film had a similarly intriguing hook: Fleecing Led Zeppelin, about the heist of $200K from a safe deposit box in a New York hotel following their sold out Madison Square Garden concerts. Needing $8K, hurry contributions close midnight August 7.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Fire in the belly, Ice in the mind

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It’s Rugby Championship time in the southern hemisphere, and perhaps time again to reflect on the revered Haka. After the All Blacks lost to France in the gut-wrenching 2007 World Cup quarter-final, and after several misfires and decidedly wobbly starts, I wrote on this blog how producer Brian Sweeney was advocating for the haka to be performed in the instances of victory, as a celebration of winning; and a challenge delivered for the next occasion on the battlefield of rugby. I said then that I had the feeling that performing it before the game was a distraction and potentially de-energizing. Since then, under Richie McCaw, Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and cohorts, the All Blacks have mastered the art of winning – beautifully, aggressively, sustainably.

The astute NZ Herald rugby writer Gregor Paul recently published a detailed analysis of how, he asserts, the haka could be messing with the ABs emotional balance when they start matches. Without doubt, it fires them up. Anyone who has done a haka before a fixture will tell you it heightens their aggression and pumps them up for the early physical exchanges. I would be prepared to bet the tight five get the most out of it, as it sets the tone for confrontation.

But the ABs game is built on accuracy. Accuracy requires clear minds, Grant Fox describes it as “Fire in the belly, Ice on the mind”. The All Blacks have been slow, stuttering starters, and have only secured victory at the last minute, for example against England in the second test in 2014 after the 71st minute, and against Ireland at the end of 2013 after fulltime. A better start would have gotten them there earlier. Gregor Paul calculates that in the 31 tests played under Steve Hansen, the opposition have scored the first points in over half the games and within 10 minutes of kickoff. Does this mean that players, especially in the crucial 8, 9. 10 and 15 jerseys, get too fired-up for the confrontation, and that the wrong decisions, even small ones, get made? And then you’re on the back foot. The modern game requires props to make a split-second call on whether to hit a ruck or act as the defensive guard dog, or on attack to provide the half back a running option or a screen to kick behind.

Gregor says the haka will always be done. It is entrenched in the All Blacks. It is a mix of ritual, intimidation – and yes, let’s say it, entertainment. Fans of all persuasions love it. But tradition has cemented it as a challenge, not a celebration. The challenge for the All Blacks is to perform at peak from the very first kick-off.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kyoboshi in Kyoto

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I’ve had great dining experiences, especially at L’enclume and The Fat Duck. But Kyoboshi in Kyoto is right up there. Tempura, but what Tempura!

Kyoboshi has been around since 1947. The family name of the owner is Sakakibara, and you are served by the 3rd generation of the family. The Chef is the grandson of the founder and has run the place (with his mom’s and wife’s help) since 1991. He has a brother who has another branch in Ginza, Tokyo. The original place is in the Gion district of Kyoto.

The batter they cook with, contains no eggs and the oil is a secret family recipe. The place only seats eight people and usually you need to book two – three months in advance. Then you get a call one month prior to your reservation from the Mom, confirming details. It’s a Kyoto treasure. Add it to your Bucket List.