Thursday, October 30, 2014

Work Different, Think Different

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Those of us who can remember life before the internet and smartphones might associate brain training with crossword puzzles or Sudoku (which have long been purported to have positive impacts on the brain in terms of reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s).

Nowadays, there are around 1,500 different apps that help you train your brain, whether to test your memory, improve your language skills or tackle a mathematical problem if you’re that way inclined, or want to be.

A new app just out, called Peak, takes a slightly different approach to the brain training game. The point of difference is that it takes the game to the next level by turning it into a competition, allowing you to compare your scores to those of others in your age group. What’s a game without a little competition?

Another point of difference is that it allows users to compare their mental abilities with others in the same line of work. This provides useful feedback for users who want to find out how they stack up against their colleagues. It also has the potential to be used as a tool for recruiting. For example, the data available so far shows that some professions are more likely to excel on some skills than others. Police need rock solid memory. Software engineers need focus.

This begs the question, are there certain ‘top’ skills that employers should be focusing on when choosing employees? Or to flip it around, are our jobs doing some degree of their own subliminal brain training so that we excel in certain skills over others? I’d say there’s a bit of both.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Move over Simon Rogan. Thank you Peter Gordon. In 2010 pre The Rugby World Cup, John Kirwan and I hosted a dinner in Peter Gordon’s New York restaurant Public for big hitters in the US business and NZ Rugby union. All Black Frank Bunce joined us in an attempt to showcase NZ for US business. A young chef name Matt Lambert prepared a delicious meal for us, and that’s the last I heard of him - until a few months ago when he was awarded a Michelin star.

His new restaurant, The Musket Room in Nolita, New York received its star only months after being open. A record in the cynical judgmental world of restaurant critics. I dropped in there last night straight after work. A Tuesday night in Nolita. Promptly bumped into Robert De Niro at 6:05pm who is a real foodie. Sat down to eat and was astonished when The Boss, Bruce Springsteen sat down opposite Robert De Niro at a different table and joined in the fun. What a tribute to a young Kiwi chef’s great cooking. A New Zealand red deer with flavors of gin was as good as it gets but couldn’t compare with my steak and cheese pie. Michelin was smart enough to deliver the celebrated star for wholesome New Zealand fayre. And when Matt came out of the kitchen he stopped off to see me first! (Of course, he knew I was going to the All Blacks game in Chicago this weekend and De Niro and The Boss were not.) He is also heading up there and was looking to get the party started.

Next time any of you are in New York, go to the Musket Room on Elizabeth Street. Name drop Springsteen and De Niro to get yourself a table!!! :)


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bill Campbell, CEO Whisperer

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Bill Campbell’s career in leadership began as head football coach at New York’s Columbia University in the 70s (where he also co-founded the Old Blue Rugby Club). Since then he has coached some of the world’s top executives over the course of his career, and in June stepped down from the Board of Apple after a 17-year stint. He remains Chairman of Intuit, having been CEO 1994-98.

Despite his tendency to decline interviews and stay out of the spotlight, Bill’s influence behind the scenes has been vital to the success of many CEOs and companies. He is utterly humble, downplaying his role as a coach to the likes of Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and John Doerr. He even referred to himself in a New York Times interview by Miguel Helft as “a third-party Jiminy Cricket”, making it clear that the CEOs he advises make the decisions and deserve the credit.

According to Bill, the entire answer to a company’s success lies in great products and great people. Sounds simple enough, but if you get these elements right all the other matters take care of themselves.

To turn the tables on Bill, what makes him a good coach? He calls himself an ‘operating guy’ – helping CEOs think about what their company should look like and how they should organize it. He supports innovation by bringing the right people into the room and ensuring that the ‘lunatic fringe’ has an opportunity to contribute. It’s about making sure the right people are sitting around the table, and empowering them.

Bill is definitely more CEO Whisperer to Jiminy Cricket. He may not be a household name, but he’s made a contribution that’s significant and worth recognizing. According to e-rugbynews, ‘he remains a friendly, down-to-earth guy, and is part owner of a bar in Palo Alto called the Old Pro, where his raucous weekly get-togethers regularly attract some of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley.” Sounds like a great candidate for the US edition of Richard Hytner’s book Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows (Richard doesn’t know he’s writing this yet).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Creativity Is A Buzzword

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‘Creativity’ has become a buzzword. When paired with its mates ‘unleash’ and ‘unlock’, they suggest that a great swell of inherent potential is about to swamp us. I’ve been an advocate for creative thinking and leadership for decades. It’s how I butter my bread. But a recent article by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker raised an interesting question: how did we come to care so much about creativity?

Its origins in the ancient world were based around the concept of a less exalted form of the imagination and a poor substitute for reality. Amazing. It then transformed into a slightly more elevated concept of ‘the creative imagination’, and then into the notion of ‘creativity’ that we all hold so dear to our hearts today.

The first step on that path was in the 18th and 19th centuries, when Romantics such as Coleridge argued that we don’t just store things in our imagination, we transform them. Hence, the ‘creative imagination’. He was clearly onto something. Coleridge went further by making a distinction between two types of imagination: the first type understands the world, while the second type cares about it and brings it to life.

And then somewhere along the way we started to think of creativity as a way of doing. We talk about ‘creative processes’ as a means to test people’s creative abilities. We measure creativity through the production of ideas, not the quality.

Sadly, we’ve moved away from the Romantic idea of creativity. We’ve confused the production of things with the living of a creative life. So next time you’re trying to be creative, or you’re trying to ‘start the flow’, take a moment to think about the origins of creativity. It’s simple. Live, observe, think and feel. Creativity will follow.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Affirmation of Humanity

Three recent articles affirm that we live in one world.
  1. Irishman Benny Lewis, 29, has been on the road for 416 weeks, almost 3,000 days, travelling to dozens of countries with few possessions and fewer funds in his back pocket. He has written 29 Life Lessons I Learned While Traveling The World For Eight Years Straight. I connect with him on most though not all of them; his #1 point is a killer app: “Everyone everywhere basically wants the same thing.” Benny writes that “Vastly different as the world’s cultures are, if you speak to Italian millionaires, homeless Brazilians, Dutch fishermen and Filipino computer programmers, in their own languages, you start to see that we are all incredibly alike where it matters. Everyone just wants validation, love, security, enjoyment and hopes for a better future. The way they verbalise this and work towards it is where things branch off, but we all have the same basic desires. You can relate to everyone in the world if you look past the superficial things that separate you.
  2. Kitchen Confidential’s fourth season has started, and Anthony Bourdain gave a lengthy interview to the Wall St Journal, in which he notes: "I assumed humans were basically bad people and if you stumbled…you would be devoured. I don't believe that anymore." Instead, reports WSJ, he has been heartened by the hospitality that he's encountered while traveling around the world, even in places he thought would be hostile to Americans. "It made me hopeful and made me feel better about the human species," he says. "We like to be good, we aspire to do good things, and we're generally trudging through life trying to do the best we can." Next year, says WSJ, Bourdain plans to open a "world market" in New York. Modeled on a Singaporean hawker center, it will have stalls of food from different cultures and countries, such as a halal stand or a Malay section. It will include some of his favorite purveyors from his travels, with a particular focus on Asian cuisine, which he especially likes. For his last meal, he says, he'd go out for high-end sushi.
  3. Is there a universal word, a rare linguistic token that is found across all languages? A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics reckons so. "We sampled 31 languages from diverse language families around the world in this study, and we found that all of them have a word with a near-identical sound and function as English “Huh?” The grunt-like "huh?" — when one is too confused for words and too caught off guard for "pardon?" — may seem to be a special form of rudeness reserved for English, but has found it is anything but.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

India Unleashed

I first visited India in 1982 and have returned more than two dozen times. I was part of the team that brought Pepsi Cola to India in the late 80s, and have been following the country’s development with eager curiosity ever since.

India is as SuperVUCA as you can get. Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy, Astounding, and one of the most (if not the most) complex cultures in the world. The country has picked up the economic pace behind new Prime Minister Modi and is moving at the speed of light, their destination driven by a desire for progress and the dreams of its young population.

The reason for my visit to India this month was to celebrate L&K Saatchi & Saatchi, the new entity that was created when Law & Kenneth joined the Saatchi & Saatchi global family earlier this year. In Mumbai, I spoke to our agency people at the Taj Land’s End (the offices in Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai tuned in via live video feed so everyone got involved), and I also spent valuable time with the senior team talking about the Saatchi Dream and 2015 action plans.

What is great about people in India is that they have high EQ. You don’t have to explain Lovemarks in India, as you can see the prose that is invested in stories about Bollywood stars that you find on – full of mystery, sensuality and intimacy. The launch of Lovemarks a decade ago by the world’s greatest movie star Shah Rukh Khan was characterized by the sort of festivities that you expect from a celebration in India. India will surprise the world one day with rugby, but for today, if their newly launched professional football league wins as many hearts as there are cricket fans, we’ll have a new nation of football fanatics to contend with. They are also entrepreneurial, innovative and digital savvy – just the kind of capability we need to win in the Age of Now.

A whirlwind of a trip. Thanks to Praveen and his team for making it possible.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cheering for Truckies

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Here’s one you didn’t expect. Trucking (or in industry parlance, HGV for heavy goods vehicle). This item from – not a website I regularly visit – caught my eye because of the critical role distribution plays in the retail and ecommerce worlds. For all the talk of Amazon delivering by drones and autonomous vehicles, trucks are the backbone of most industries. There has been recent press (FOX, CNBC) in the US about there being more open trucking jobs than available commercial drivers. There are currently about 35,000 unfilled truck driver jobs in the US alone, predicted to increase to 200,000 by 2024. The situation is further pressured by older drivers returning in greater numbers. The recession says trucking volumes plummet but this just masked the issue of a long term labour shortage. As the economy continues to recover, the labor shortages are more acute.

In the UK the industry is exploding myths about trucking, for example:
  • Myth: Trucking is a dirty industry. 
  • Myth: Trucking is a sector dominated by men. 
  • Myth: Trucking is a lonely job. 
  • Myth: Trucking is moving pallets from A to B.
  • Myth: Trucking is a dying industry. 
  • Myth: The haulage sector is full - there are no jobs available. 
  • Myth: Trucking is a low paid job. 
“Truth: Trucking cannot die. If it were, how would products be transported to supermarkets? How would milk get from farms to dairies? How would cars get to dealerships without using excess mileage? Trains, planes and boats can take these so far but cannot deliver them to the end user as efficiently and cost effectively as trucks!”

So next time you get a package delivery, go to a supermarket, or have a meal at a restaurant, spare a moment for truck drivers. They played a role in your purchase satisfaction. Unsung heroes maybe, certainly a vital link in the supply chain, responsible for hauling 70% of all freight tonnage moved in the U.S. The romance of the road is less of a lure for most young people today as sexier jobs have come along, but if you know someone loves driving and meaningful work, give them a nudge. The world needs truck drivers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Maps Without Borders

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We tend to think of maps as definitions of space and geography. Lost? Check Google Maps on your phone. Planning a round-the-world trip? Chart your locations on an atlas (or online as most people do nowadays). But maps are not exclusive to locations and destinations. Maps can look at our DNA, our relationships, global development or life expectancy, our futures and linguistics. What is a family-tree if not a map of our lineage?

Hans-Ulrich Obrist, art curator at the Swiss Serpentine and the foremost contemporary artist conversationalist, recently asked 130 creatives to contribute maps of their own for the book Mapping It Out – An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies. The maps are created by architects and artists, scientists and designers. They are simple and complex (often at once), and force you to rethink the idea of a map. Some maps in the book are traditional, such as Jona Meka’s ‘Map of 1960s New York from Memory’. Others, like scientist Albert-László Barabási’s, are factual and contemporary. Then you have the abstracts from Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. A leap out of the ordinary.

Maps can provide a unique way of examining the human condition. Much of life can’t be defined by political or geographical borders, but that does not mean they can’t be visually illustrated the same way. A recent project by MIT is creating maps based on microstories – where to find independent coffee shops in San Francisco, people who are awake in Philadelphia, bicycle crashes in Austin. Such maps might be a better representation of ourselves than the ones defined by our passports.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Master Your Movements

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As the line goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So it comes as no surprise that if you want to build influence, it starts with how you enter a room. It’s about how you look, how you act and what you say – in that order. It’s about making a connection with people, which begins in the unconscious mind, before you start thinking about the content, which is the job of the conscious mind.

This was a sentiment expressed by Nick Morgan on HBR’s blog network, to which he offered three simple pieces of advice that struck a chord with me. Not because the advice is new, but because it’s a fresh three-step take, and because it’s a good reminder.

First, check yourself. You might have your game face on, but what about the rest of you? Do you look like you’ve slept in your clothes? “Your clothes are talking about you. Always look sharp” says Bob Seelert. Be aware of your nonverbal cues – the way you walk, how you hold yourself, and where you tend to stand in a room. These cues will give your game away if you’re slinking, slouching or standing in a corner. They signal your intentions and feelings, and are thus a key determinant of your relationships with other people and your influence on them. You should be paying attention to them and deciding whether they project an image you’re happy with, or how you might improve it.

Now you’re ready to start thinking about your emotions. Clear your mind (most of us will have a lot to clear – this is what Buddhists call ‘monkey mind’) and focus on one key emotion, one that demands attention. That focus on one emotion is what makes people charismatic. That’s how they take over a room. People feel that focus and become infected by it. We’re hard-wired to notice strong emotions in others.

Finally, if you want to influence people, you’d better have something to be influential about. Invite your conscious mind to the party. All eyes are on you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Like a Rolling Stone

Image source: Zander Takatomo

In anyone’s life, it’s pretty cool to be able to announce Bob Dylan. That’s the experience I had last week in New York when the University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Project held a launch at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York. I had the pleasure of announcing Mr Bob as Founding Patron of the University of Auckland’s Research Fund for Creativity and as the inaugural Creative Laureate of the University’s Creative Thinking Project.

Ever the mystery, Bob was not physically present but this did not diminish the significance of his association with this compelling Auckland project to deepen understanding of the creative process order to foster wide participation, and promote creativity as central to individual and community wellbeing and development.

Sheldon Levy, SVP of Broadcast at SaatchiNY, talks about “being in the traffic” and the event at 375 Hudson St proved just that. There was an engrossing conversation featuring NY cultural powerhouse and President Emerita of the Museum of Modern Art Agnes Gund, Google Director of Engineering Craig Nevil-Manning, renowned neuroscientist and classical scholar Nancy Andreasen and artist/photographer Clifford Ross, delicately choreographed by NYU Professor and Auckland Uni alum Peter Rajsingh. There was an artist room featuring Walters Prize winner Kate Newby and New Museum Lab fellow Carlo Van der Roer with his awesome human aura photographs.

The official announcements read like this:

Stuart McCutcheon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland: “As one of the most creative voices of our time, Bob Dylan inspires the imagination. He has been a restless and challenging creative force across the world for 50 years, writing anthemic songs that span generations. He is also the first rock musician voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. And he has been a frequent visitor to New Zealand to perform concerts since 1978.”

Peter Rajsingh, Chair of the US Friends of the University of Auckland: “Bob Dylan has been a transformative figure while remaining outside the mainstream. In this regard, he parallels the ethos of New Zealand, a country that has made significant contributions to the world by ‘leading from the edge.’”

Jenny Dixon, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland: “Creative thinking drives success,” “Creativity is a proven force for cognitive development, academic achievement and social and economic innovation. Being creative strengthens neural pathways and generates lasting connections. It opens up worlds of possibility and change.”

The Research Fund for Creativity will support research in New Zealand and internationally, across all disciplines seeking to understand creativity and find creative solutions to global issues.

And Bob: For the first time, every single Bob Dylan lyric, including variations, will be published in one book. The Lyrics: Since 1962, numbering over 1,000 pages, will go on sale for $200 on Oct. 28 from publisher Simon & Schuster. Three thousand copies will be available.

The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 set for November 4 release by Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings. Meticulously restored for the first time from newly found original tape sources, six disc set is definitive chronicle of Dylan's legendary 1967 sessions with The Band. Compiled from meticulously restored original tapes – many found only recently - this historic six-disc set is the definitive chronicle of the artist's legendary 1967 recording sessions with members of his touring ensemble who would later achieve their own fame as The Band.

Read more:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Post-Failure Recovery Programme

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South African business coach Karl Smith has written about the seven steps to starting over after failure. He makes a valuable point that nothing great succeeded the first time. Failure is part of the process. And I agree with him that the best thing you can do post-failure is be proactive about moving forward.

His recovery programme is common sense advice:
  1. Accept responsibility for your own failure. Own It. It's yours. That's the first step to regaining respect. 
  2. Recognize when you haven't succeeded. Know when to cut your losses and stop flogging the dead horse. This can be quite hard, but we have to always be wary of our own blinkers. 
  3. Make sure the pieces from your failure have been sufficiently picked up. As Smith says: "If you have a reputation to repair, then take care of that immediately, so your future ventures will be taken seriously by those around you." 
  4. Remind yourself of your past successes. Even in the depths of despair, go back and reflect on the times you did succeed and remember how you survived past mistakes. 
  5. Make a positive decision. Anything at all. Even if it's something as simple as to take a day off and go swimming. Get refreshed so when you revisit the failure you're in a better headspace. 
  6. Forget the past and focus on the future. Water under the bridge. Take stock and move on to the next project or purpose. 
  7. Revisit your vision. To quote Stephen Covey: "All things are created twice." Failure is a good crystallizer. When you start again you have greater clarity of logic. Use it.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Stress in the Spotlight

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I was once told by Bob Seelert that to run Saatchi & Saatchi effectively you need, every morning, to “strap on a waterproof back and a bulletproof vest.” I took that advice and never looked back. I’m passionate about what I do, I want to be the best and I’ve been determined to enjoy a life well lived and not get distracted or brought down by stress, a gift that keeps on giving if it lets you.

Perhaps this is why I have been given the opening chapter in a new book Stress in the Spotlight, a book by Brian Claridge, UK journalist and Cary Cooper, Pro Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University. The book features individuals in high pressure positions from all walks of life. Take Major Chris Hunter, a former bomb disposal expert, or leading children’s surgeon Dr. David Dunaway. They operated in life and death situations. Then there are others like co-founder and senior executive of Specsavers Dame Mary Perkins DBE, international fashion designer Jeff Banks CBE and celebrity chef, TV presenter and author Ken Hom OBE. Unique insights from unique people.

My advice to people who experience stress is to “know thyself.” Work out what stresses you out and eliminate it, or work to manage or balance it with things you enjoy. Find something you’re passionate about that doesn’t cause you stress. Make Happy Choices. And if you’re having trouble dealing with stress? Focus, commitment and discipline are what I swear by to manage any stress. Calmness and purposeful commitment to action are usually what is required and appreciated. As General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “When given command, take control and do what’s right.”

My chapter ends with this quote by Mark Twain: “if you do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Stress in the Spotlight is out on 29 October. Pre-order your copy at or Amazon. Check it out.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

That Friday Feeling

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A survey on smiling commissioned by hello – an oral care company, not the magazine – has found British employees are much happier than people think. The survey also confirmed that Friday is a day for smiling.

The survey of 2,000 British employees found people are most likely to get the “Friday feeling” at exactly 2:56pm every Friday. The time was worked out by generating an average based on answer options. The questions included how many times a day people found themselves smiling, and at what time were they were most likely to smile. Hello said the survey challenges the assumption that Brits are typically unhappy and miserable, revealing that one in five people smile more than 21 times a day (but can do better – what are the other 80% doing?).

The Gift of Gratitude

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Gratitude is an often overlooked feeling, but it is there that springs joy and happiness. One study said that the degree for which we experience gratitude can “explain more variance in life satisfaction than such traits as love, forgiveness, social intelligence, and humor”. While another claims that, “gratitude is strongly related to all aspects of well-being”. Benefits include helping us feel more hopeful and optimistic about our futures, helping us deal with stress and adversity, encourages us to exercise and can even help us sleep better.

Gratitude is about giving, and receiving. And this is applicable everywhere – even, if not especially – at work. It’s very easy to think that you need to be grateful for your friends and family, but applying gratitude to your professional life is something that often gets overlooked. Gratitude is part of RLRJ. When employers give employees responsibility, learning and recognition, everyone experiences joy. Employees return their gratitude by bringing their best to work each and every day.

It’s important that we open our eyes to things we can be grateful for. The sight of a delicious meal, catching up with faraway family on Skype, the things people have done to lift us up, the sacrifices people have made to our benefit, a cold beer on a warm day. Once we recognize our gratitude, for a person or a moment, it’s important we pay it back or forward.

As William Arthur Ward, one of America’s most quoted inspirational writers, said, “feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it”.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Appreciating The Dream

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Richie McCaw is now the most capped All Black in history. On the weekend he surpassed Sir Colin Meads, a towering legend of the game with hands the size of dinner plates. The pub quip is that Meads hasn’t bought a beer in 40 years. Now he has someone to buy one for.

McCaw is only seven matches shy of equalling the all-time world record of 141 caps held by Brian O’Driscoll, the Irish general who retired earlier this year. There are six games left in 2014. History must wait.

And for the first time, McCaw has started to talk about his own mortality. The modern game is fast and physically brutal. He debuted at age 20. Captain at age 23. Today he is running around on 33-year-old legs, but he is still peerless as an open-side. The Wallabies have unearthed a quality fetcher in Michael Hooper, but he remains a young grasshopper by comparison.

McCaw gave a recent interview where he reflected on his career and there was a particular comment that resonated with me. As he says:

“When you get to my stage of career, you realise you’ve got to make the most of every time you get a chance to play, because they start running out.”

He spoke about how after being turfed out of the 2007 World Cup he spent the next four years desperately wanting to atone. He had a singular focus and lost some appreciation for the game. He lost the enjoyment. But today, he relishes every opportunity to pull on the black jersey, because he knows it won’t be forever. He knows it has to end. We know it has to end.

I understand exactly what he’s feeling. I’ve been unbelievably privileged to be Saatchi & Saatchi’s Global CEO, and now that I am in a transition stage, I’m making each and every day count as if it was the first, and the last.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Connecting Differences

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In hundreds of speeches over the years, two themes have run front center: love and inspiration. Whether it is politics, business or culture, I believe that solving problems and creating better worlds boils down to unleashing the most positive of human emotions.

However negative the situation looks or the problem presents or the news is, the start of a solution happens when you create the conditions for love and inspiration.

One such condition is connecting people and ideas that are different in a democratic space, which brings understanding, revelation, and opens the door to new possibilities. An example comes from a TED talk by Zak Ebrahim: ‘I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace.’ TED has just published this story as a book; it is an intimate, behind-the-scenes life of an American boy raised by his terrorist father — the man who planned the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Zak Ebrahim talks about how his eyes were opened, after growing up in a bigoted household and being raised to judge people based on arbitrary measurements.

In this story it is the positive intersections that led to a change of the direction in which he was being forced; the connecting of differences that led to perceptions that turned it around.

Three lines that are foundational for me in this talk are:
  1. When people take the time to interact with one another, it doesn't take long to realize that, for the most part, we all want the same things out of life. 
  2. Inspiration can often come from an unexpected place, so become exposed to people from many different walks of life, faiths and cultures. 
  3. Everyone regardless of their upbringing or circumstances, can learn to tap into their inherent empathy and embrace tolerance over hatred. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Brain Over Brawn

In your typical American coming-of-age movie, whether it’s high school or college, the ‘jocks’ tend to be routinely parodied as idiots that can barely put a sentence together. I don’t think it could be argued they don’t exist, but it’s a stereotype that has been badly overplayed. And when you look at professional athletes of today, it’s pretty clear that they’re as sharp upstairs as they are physically exceptional.

Former England cricketer Ed Smith sums it up in a nicely worded column in Intelligent Life. Highlighting German football as an example, he talks about how the administration has put a premium on intelligence. They built their World Cup winning game plan around a team of quick thinkers who could assess risk and show finely tuned judgement to match their silky skills. Thomas Müller doesn’t think of himself as having a position, he calls himself ‘an interpreter of space’.

I can’t help but notice that the world’s greatest athletes are exceptionally smart off the field. Roger Federer can speak five languages. Marion Bartoli, a Wimbledon champ, has an IQ higher than Einstein. Her Russian rival Daniela Hantuchova is a classically trained pianist and speaks four languages. Just look at the All Blacks and their most influential players. Conrad Smith, the midfield rock, is a lawyer. Dan Carter is an accomplished businessman. Richie McCaw, their fearless leader, is a pilot.

Athletes often say that when you reach the top levels, 90% of sport is mental. They are spending a lot more time doing cognitive exercises and mental preparation, including meditation, to match the physical requirements. Because physicality only takes them so far, brilliance is in the brain.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


I’ve just been in Berlin for two packed days full of events and interviews all centred around the new Saatchi & Saatchi PRO – our first B2B agency made possible by our acquisition of the Berlin digital agency zweimaleins. We’re all family now and they gave us a great welcome.

They’re based down in the edgier part of Berlin, Neuköln, in a great space, and with a bunch of savvy people who are up for embracing the Saatchi & Saatchi Nothing is Impossible spirit.

Then we headed off to Grill Royal for a dinner with 10 Saatchi & Saatchi overachievers – old and brand new – quality meat, good wine, and good conversation. Celebrating spirit!

Next day I had a string of good interviews with Wiwo, German GQ, and a long session with Horizont.

Then the main stage at the Chamäleon Theatre for a speech to the German advertising industry. Apparently a recent survey had found advertising, as a profession, was viewed in the same light as politicians and insurance salesman in the trust stakes in Germany. No hiding from that challenge!

I delivered a speech about the role of business and the role of advertising in the world. We want to unleash Berlin’s creative spirit on the world, and I’ve set the bar high for our German agency. They can do it. After all – they just did this:

And after all of that, we squeezed in a photo shoot for German GQ too!

Thanks to Christian, Bert, Alex, Dirk and the wonderful and indispensable Heidi for a great time in Berlin. I’ll be back and I’m excited to see where we are then.

Lessons from a $650,000 Lunch

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$650,000 is a lot to pay for lunch, but back in 2008 Guy Spiers and his friend Mohnish Pabrai paid that amount to have lunch with Warren Buffett at Smith and Wollensky’s restaurant in New York. Fund managers are renowned for spending heavy, but in this case the coin was all going to charity. Spiers has recently written about that lunch, the five lessons he took from it and how it changed his life. They are worth taking a look at.
  1. Unconventional is often better - People will often try to talk you out of doing what's right if it's unconventional. Which is very true. Orthodoxy is comfortable and often sensible, but it's also boring and invites complacency. You have to swim against the tide every now and again so that when it turns, you're way out in front. 
  2. Keep hold of your inner child - The story goes that Buffett told the children at the lunch that he doesn't eat anything as an adult that he didn't like when he was five years old. That would make him a rather bizarre man if true, and goes against his reputation for being strongly inquisitive in nature. But regardless, the lesson works. Children are curious. Joyful. Excitable. Eager. They're traits we have to hold onto. 
  3. Learn how to say 'no' to people - Every time you say yes to something, realistically you're often saying no to another person. It's a question of knowing your priorities and showing the discipline needed to win. 
  4. Be driven by your inner scorecard - This is one of the most important lessons we need in life. It's about knowing what is true and right. It's tough because we place a lot of emphasis on how we are precieved.  
  5. Take risks for the right relationships - This is crucial for people with stupidly busy professional lives. Life can become incredibly self-serving if we allow it to be. So when you find someone that inspires you, take risks and invest the time in that relationship. It doesn't matter whether it's professionally or personally. Winning is happiness. People get us there. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Is Adversity Foe or Friend?

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There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time – Malcolm X

Steven Crandell wrote recently in the Huffington Post about the necessity for entrepreneurs to turn adversity into opportunity, saying a lot rides on how we exercise our free will to create a personal resiliency.

He came up with a quick three question test:
  • Can you commit to what you really care about? How? 
  • Can you maintain that commitment even as outside events batter you, even as you prove yourself to be frail and fallible, even as you have to radically change your strategy and goals? How? 
  • Can you live your everyday life with the durability, flexibility and transcendence of love? How? 
They’re decent questions. Adversity is just life. We can’t win every day at everything. But in my experience, adversity is only a foe if you let it break you. I take the simple Tom Peters’ approach: if you’re going to fail, fail fast, learn fast and fix fast. Failing is just a step on the road to discovering what works. And when you find what works, that’s called winning. They’re not so far apart.