Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sounds of the Times

Image attribution / source: Ben_E._King / & The Righteous Brothers /

Each year the US Library of Congress selects 25 recordings to be inducted into the National Recording Registry. This year marks the 13th year of the Library’s annual selections, and the new batch of inclusions is notable for a variety of different reasons. You can see the full list here, but a couple stood out for me.
  • The single ‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E. King. Apparently inspired by a gospel song, with one of the best-known basslines in recording history. Not to mention the lyrics. And brilliantly used by Saatchi & Saatchi for Steinlager – Who Are Still ‘Standing By’ the All Blacks.
  • Joan Baez’s inclusion in the selection was acknowledged by TIME with a piece that revisits a November 1962 story on the folk movement.
  • You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ by the Righteous Brothers. They transcended pop and rhythm and blues with a string of Top 40 radio hits that still get everyone singing along.
  • And who would miss out The Doors.
To see the full list of recordings, and recordings preserved by year, visit the Library of Congress website here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reinvention: The Common Thread

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Above everything else, you must be open to change if you want to survive and thrive as a business, says Lloyd Shefsky in his new book, Invent Reinvent Thrive. “Everything else comes after.”

Reinvention is the common thread of business success, and it’s not just about starting with a new idea or concept that breaks the mold, but about fully embracing change while the business grows – recognizing that constant innovation is key to surviving in today’s world of uncertainty.

In a recent interview with Kellogg Insight, Shefsky (who is a Kellogg School of Management Professor) talks about the trigger for the book, which was the realization that people who succeed do so because they reinvent themselves and their businesses. They all did it and continue to do it. To inform his book, Shefsky went out and spoke with entrepreneurs and family business giants, including leaders of highly successful companies such as Starbucks, Costco, Charles Schwab & Co. and Staples.

Shefsky gives the example of Starbucks. Founder, Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz had an idea, and then went about “trying to convince the American public – who were used to bad coffee – that they should pay a fortune to get some kind of different coffee that they’d never tasted in a paper cup and be happy.” But that wasn’t quite the point. What Schultz ended up selling was an experience – access to a secret club where people spoke a different language, ordering a ‘doppio’ instead of a ‘double espresso’. People wanted to be part of it.

Years later Starbucks faced a few bumps in the road, with concerns about volume and profits. Had Schultz adopted a tunnel-vision approach he might have considered changing his prices in the hope that this would be the magic solution to his problem. Instead, he visited his stores, and realized that Starbucks had changed – no longer was it a friendly place with atmosphere, noise and the smell of coffee. A new coffeemaker had been brought in that eliminated noise and that delicious coffee aroma, and also blocked the customer’s view of the barista. Schultz made a change to take Starbucks back to what it was; a backwards reinvention.

Shefsky highlights the take-away insight for people who are interested in the book: “…invention is really critical. Yes, it takes confidence. Yes, it takes guts. Yes, it takes skill. But you really have to figure out how you’re going to reinvent… Recognize that even the best success stories you can imagine miss things and mess up things. So that’s another kind of reinvention: After you mess up how do you reinvent it to put it back together?”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Friendly Swiss

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I wrote last week that I was in the beautiful city of Lucerne and about my extraordinary meal at Focus in Vitznau by Nenad Mlinarevic. It was the perfect appetizer for the main event, the World Tourism Conference, where I was a keynote speaker and was asked to address the topic of “irresistible.”

Tourism is a vitally important business to most economies in the world. In 2014 Travel & Tourism generated US$7.6 trillion (10% of global GDP) and 277 million jobs (1 in 11 jobs) in the global economy. Its growth of 3.6% was faster than the wider economy and out-performed growth in the majority of leading sectors in 2014. More than 60% of all air travel is tourism related.

My message was that the keyword for the tourism industry in 2015 is not scenery, experience, adventure, millennial, disruption, technology – but people.

“Irresistibility is not about who has the highest Alps or whitest beaches, nor the most personal data or smartest tech; all are commodities, all replicable in one way or other.

“Irresistibility is about the living force that defines us, about the power and mystery of human emotion and storytelling, about people being understood, touched, involved and inspired by other people. How many times have you heard the story, “the hiking was amazing, the shopping was unique, but the people…they were so helpful and friendly…”

Tourism is an industry that runs on talent, and the 277 million people employed – whether at airport check-in, by-the-pool service, off-the-bungy moment of truth, on the jet-boat – all have major responsibility for delivering personal fulfilment in the chain of interactions.

And not only is the People element critical in the industry itself, it is crucial in the national welcome. In a workshop I co-hosted with Oxford economist xxx addressing the issue of currency fluctuations which is currently pressuring the Swiss tourism industry (an appreciated franc being the issue), I said that the Swiss has to get off the neutral horse and become roundly hospitable.

Generosity is a free resource, doesn’t require any capital investment, just a national attitude shift. If the Swiss tourism industry wants to ride out the currency problem that is inducing many travellers to consider Moscow as a cheaper alternative because of the depreciated ruble, they just have to work on being nicer. Ditch the reserve, open the arms, up the enthusiasm, put on a smile. Won’t cost a franc. We’ll see.

There are lessons for all countries in this, perhaps try starting with the competence and attitude of border control agents who regularly set back national perceptions with their operating ethos of ‘frosty.’ Understandable at a certain level, but when someone is obviously a tourist or an experienced traveller, try a welcome as well as the once-over.

Monday, April 27, 2015

What Makes a Champion Teacher?

Image attribute / source: Doug Lemov /

We all remember the best teachers we had at school (take a bow Peter Sampson & Doug Cameron from Lancaster Royal Grammar School). The best teachers make tremendous impacts on the lives of their students that extend far beyond the school yard.

So what makes a great teacher? A common view is that people are born teachers; they either have it in their temperaments and personalities, or they don’t. Doug Lemov debunks this view. He believes that great teachers are made, not born. The tenets behind his revolutionary way of thinking were recently recapped in an article by Ian Leslie on The Guardian.

The article is a fascinating read which shines a spotlight on effective teaching as a mindful, considered and utterly important act. An act that is absurdly difficult, ultimately because “thinking is invisible.” But still, an act that can and should be developed and honed, through constant reflection, feedback and practice.

The best teachers, as Leslie points out, instill a hunger to learn, and not just in their pupils. As Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the University of London’s Institute of Education highlights, “People make claims about having 20 years’ experience, but they really just have one year’s experience repeated 20 times.”

Lemov’s ideas are simple and transformative. Initially, he set out to answer the question of how to help teachers get better at helping children learn. It started with a revelation he had after an experienced colleague gave him a piece of advice, which was to stand still when you’re giving directions to a class, so students will listen. It worked.

Lemov’s ideas are grounded in research which shows that one of the key determinants of whether a child will do well at school is who teaches them when they get there. “What teachers do, know, and care about” is of insurmountable benefit in terms of educational success. His lessons are insightful, not only for traditional teachers, but for anyone who finds themselves falling into a teaching role. He covers things such as “what pace to move around the classroom, what language to use when praising a student, [and] how to adjust the angle of your head to let students know you’re looking at them.”

He’s coined certain techniques such as ‘no opt out’ which involves insisting that a child repeats his/her answer until it is 100% correct, and ‘positive framing’ which involves making critical feedback encouraging. He emphasizes the need for teachers to maximize the amount of thinking and learning going on in their classroom at any particular point in time, and considers that mundane routines can have magical effects.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Nirvana in Vitznau

Am in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Lucerne Switzerland, speaking at the World Tourism Forum. Spring has sprung. The skies are cloudless, the lake clear and the Cherry Blossom is in full swing.

Had the best dinner of 2015 so far last night at Focus, in Vitznau. 45 minutes from Lucerne. Sat in the kitchen at The Chef’s Table and watched a 34 year old Swiss genius, Nenad Mlinarevic, make magic. Harmonising all local ingredients from beetroot to rhubarb, dandelion honey to iced walnut mustard and carrots from their own gardens, with trout from the neighboring village. A 2 Star Michelin with over $25 million of amazing wines in the cellars, the best lakeside view imaginable, experts in the fine arts of wine, food and service (Kuba, Michael, Marian and Alex) and a Chef heading for Global Stardom. Focus (at The Park Hotel) is worth a detour from Zurich or wherever you are in Central Switzerland. ‘Living Well is The Best Revenge’. And Nenads ‘Focus’ on local original ingredients combined imaginatively and innovatively is poetry in motion.

And to cap it all, he cancelled our taxi and drove us the 45 minute trek home, personally. In his Brand Ambassador Maserati Quattroporte. Now that’s the New Tourism!!!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Speaking of I, Me, We

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An article on Nautilus provides a fascinating birds-eye view of how we use language to express ourselves, and in turn, the role it plays in the way we use it to express ourselves. Confused?

The article starts by pointing out that the English language is highly egocentric, particularly when you compare it to language used by the Guugu Ymithirr tribe in Australia. English speakers tend to orient themselves in the world according to, well, themselves. We talk about moving forward or backward according to the direction we’re facing. English speakers describe the world from the perspective of the self. Guugu Ymithirr speakers take a different approach, using their internal compass and the cardinal directions of east, west, north and south.

Research has shown this ability also translates into other aspects of the speakers’ lives, having good spatial memory and navigational skills. Another tribe in Australia apply cardinal directions to their interpretation of time, with time moving from east to west as opposed to left to right (which is how English speakers typically express time).

Other interesting but slightly more abstract examples highlighted in the article are a language where colors are described as metaphors (e.g. ‘the man is white like a parrot’, rather than ‘the man is white’) and a language that makes you provide evidence, with speakers taking absolute care to describe things in the most truthful way possible at a particular point in time.

A reminder that our worldview is largely built on the language that we use. The words we speak create a framework in which others use to understand us, and ultimately how we understand ourselves. So choose your words wisely.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Fixer

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A former All Black guilty of match fixing?

Read John Daniell’s new novel The Fixer… published this month by Upstart Press. Mostly written ‘on location’ at Michael’s Nook, my Grasmere home. A brilliant way to warm up for The World Cup.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Connections - Quality Over Quantity

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point he describes three types of people: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. ‘Connectors’ are people who connect other people together. ‘Mavens’ are people with information. ‘Salesmen’ are people with strong negotiation skills. The book was, and still is, credited with influencing how people think about sales and how ideas catch on.

The Tipping Point was first published in 2000. Since then technology has allowed us to connect in different ways at all times. But just because connections exist doesn’t mean that they are of value. I think most people will agree that it’s what we do with those connections that really matters. This is the thrust behind a new way of thinking about Connectional Intelligence is the book Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence by Erica Dhawan and Saj-nicole Joni.

In an article in Fast Company, Dhawan describes Connectional Intelligence as “Sift(ing) through the noise of social media and technology to get big things done.” The notion harks back to the old adage ‘quality over quantity’. Dhawan poses three questions as a framework for challenging our traditional concept of networking in this way:
  1. What do you care about most?
  2. What do you already know?
  3. How can one problem solve another?
To accompany and complement this framework, Dhawan and Joni suggest a new paradigm for categorizing different types of people: thinkers (the curious type), enablers (who share ideas and bring people together) and connection executors (the doers).

A big part of this is about knowing (and accepting) yourself and what your strengths are in situations that involve connecting with other people, and using this to your advantage – opening yourself up to bigger things and bigger ideas, by looking deeper than your connections, to make magic happen.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

77 New Lovemarks

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You know I love a list, right? We just refreshed and it’s on “live test” right now, check it out. Already there has been a stream of new visitors from every corner of the world with new stories, many about brands you’ve never heard of before. Too often brands are thought of only in terms of Coca-Cola, Nike and McDonalds, ie the ‘megas’, so dive into this list and discover the diverse world of brands Lovemarks.

   1. Arano
   40. Lenkr
   2. Inuyasha
   41. Froot Loops
   3. Za Cosmetics
   42. GO-JEK
   4. Tyranids
   43. The Fat Doctor
   5. Rilakkuma
   44. Mass Effect
   45. Skyrim
   7. LifeBankUSA
   46. Fallout
   8. Bandung
   9. Bolt 4G
   48. Beijing
   49. Jay Chou
   50. Miyavi
   12. Outlast
   51. Watase Yuu
   13. Ovomaltine
   53. Xiaomi
   54. Kose
   16. One Piece
   55. Eeyore
   17. 50 First Dates
   18. Yogyakarta
   57. American Dad!
   19. Daiso
   58. Hitman
   20. Tolak Angin
   59. f(x)
   21. The Witcher
   60. La Fontanina
   22. Wowrack
   61. Above & Beyond
   23. Age of Kung Fu
   62. Make-A-Wish
   24. Daniela Andrade
   63. Pumpkin Pie
   64. Ayla
   27. Mezzo Cline
   66. The Piano Guys
   28. The Notebook
   67. SONOS
   29. GimmeFashion
   30. Tokyo
   31. Slayer
   70. My Food Bag
   32. Nikola Tesla
   71. Jay Z
   33. Kanye West
   34. Teamworks
   73. Airbnb
   35. Japan
   74. TUN Travel
   36. Oil Painting
   75. Portal
   37. Kingdom Rush
   76. Amnesia

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Haiku on Demand

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No one travels
Along this way but I,
This autumn evening.
- Bashō

The haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry; a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. It’s a neat little package: often focusing on images from nature, the haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity and directness of expression.

The Haiku Guys personify that simplicity. Simply two guys and a girl who write haiku. Sitting behind typewriters, cracking out haiku on demand for guests they’ve been invited to entertain at parties and events. Like many entrepreneurial ventures, they started out under the radar, but have since gained popularity with a corporate client base including Bloomberg, Google and Barnes & Noble.

In an article on Fast Company, co-founder of The Haiku Guys Lisa Markuson talks about people’s (sometimes) extreme reactions to their poetry. “They cry, they laugh, they tell us we can see into their souls. It’s a very vulnerable moment that people seem to get a lot of catharsis from.”

How many times do we deliver that kind of feeling in business?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Have a Little Faith

Trust increases with age, according to research, and we're getting older on a population basis, meaning that the older world we live in is also a more trusting world.

Considering there’s a positive link between trust and well-being, this can only be a good thing. It’s the main finding of a study from the University of Buffalo and Northwestern University; that cynicism and distrust tends to decline with age. One of the researchers, Michael Poulin, contemplates this shift in attitude, suggesting that our life experiences ‘soften’ the sometimes cynical society in which we live.

Trust is critical. It helps societies function. It makes us happier as people and it promotes well-being. It’s also another positive thing about getting older.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Do More And Better With Less

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Nothing beats a creative idea, and in a high-speed world Jugaad (in short, an innovative fix) hits pay dirt as a way to win. A few years ago I wrote the foreword for the book Jugaad Innovation, and was only too happy to recently endorse the follow-up, now out, Frugal Innovation: How to do more with less by Navi Radjou and Jaideep Prabhu.

I love the approach of Jugaad innovation. It’s improvised edge from the developing economies is at the crux of how to win in pressure cooker times. Frugal Innovation carries the torch of inventiveness into a future where priceless value comes standard.

In the audience-owned speedy era, where the customer cycle is see it; search it; shop it; share it, priceless value is about improving people’s lives everywhere. Frugal Innovation hits a homer with “the art of doing more, and better, with less.” The case study-loaded book illuminates the frugal trajectory for the developed-economy space, looking across sectors at developed-world frugal exponents and the benefits they are reaping.

Off an introductory platform, six example-supported principles of a frugal innovation strategy are rolled out, along with how to use these principles for frugal reinvention: Engage and iterate; Flex your assets; Create sustainable solutions; Shape customer behaviour; Co-create value with prosumers; Make innovative friends. This is followed up with fostering a frugal innovation culture, backed by examples, before concluding words. Further details from research director and editor Madanmohan Rao.

Frugal Innovation is a clean hit. Well worth a check out.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Personal Projects

Image source / Artist: / Ashley Spencer

Personal projects are part of the moral fiber that makes us unique. They provide evidence of creativity, personality and enthusiasm for truly personal interests. (I have 30 days per year contractually carved out from my day job at Saatchi & Saatchi for personal projects.)

They’re also important in the workplace, and in many cases, could just be the thing that sets you apart from your colleagues, as pointed out by Chi Birmingham on 99U. Birmingham argues that personal projects “emphasize your personal style and way of thinking through pure expression.”

The idea of skunkworks and Google’s 20% time are well documented. You get the best from people if you give them rein to pursue their wider interests, passions and aspirations in a workplace setting.

Make time for your personal projects. I love the story of Charles Ives (1874 – 1954), one of the first American composers of international renown who to be regarded as an "American original." “Ives combined the American popular and church-music traditions of his youth with European art music, and was among the first composers to engage in a systematic program of experimental music, with musical techniques including polytonality, polyrhythm, tone clusters, aleatoric elements, and quarter tones, foreshadowing many musical innovations of the 20th century.”

His day job was as an insurance executive and actuary. “Ives devised creative ways to structure life-insurance packages for people of means, which laid the foundation of the modern practice of estate planning. His Life Insurance with Relation to Inheritance Tax, published in 1918, was well received. As a result of this he achieved considerable fame in the insurance industry of his time, with many of his business peers surprised to learn that he was also a composer.” (Thank you Wikipedia).

The Economic Value of Nature

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Insect pollination is reportedly valued at £136 billion a year. Michael McCarthy, in a recent article on The Independent, writes “Many aspects of the natural world are now being given real financial value, to represent the services they perform for us, the most obvious being the pollination of crops by insects.”

McCarthy notes that these valuations are widely considered to be our new hope for saving the planet, based on the theory that if we know the true worth of nature, we’ll look after it. Or will we? If you live in California and eat hamburgers, you might want to stop if you knew how much water it took to produce it. Or every time you crunch a walnut: five gallons of water concentrated on that single nut. The water crisis in California – where 25% of America’s good is grown – means we will need to make decisions about what to do without. Walnuts – gone. Strawberries – we don’t need them 12 months of the year. I predict that water consumption will become a feature of packaging at a certain level or geography.

While doing hard sums, it’s important to remain meditative about the emotional response nature evokes. Being in the desert, watching a sunset or sunrise, squelching into mud, the sound of the waves crashing at night, the wind blowing on your skin. These moments connect us with nature, often in quite profound and personal ways. “Keeping Calm and Carrying On” is an outcome from being close to nature and the embrace of its elements.

The EVA of nature will come into sharp relief over the next decade as we pound its limits. Making the effort to get close to nature is a requisite for happiness and survival. Is this why Alaskan Bush People was the second-highest rated show on cable last week? And why The Walking Dead series 5 finale drew over 17 million viewers, a record?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Music on the Mind

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Cat Stevens’ ‘Father & Son’ comes to mind for me. I’m talking about music that evokes a genuine emotional response…that magic combination of rhythm, melody and lyrics; a universal language that allows people to feel things and communicate in ways that words often can’t. Music can be so powerful that those feelings can transcend time, drumming up memories of moments and music past.

It’s hard not to wax lyrical about music – it’s got a special something that most people can relate to. Neuroscientists have been trying to find the answer to this for years, looking at the brain ‘on music’ and what’s happening up there. The findings in an article Why We Love Music by Jill Suttie from Greater Good are interesting.

The pleasure hormone dopamine is released in the brain when people hear a favorite song. For songs we don’t know, our brains process the sounds through memory circuits, searching for something recognizable. If that recognizable something is found, people tend to enjoy the song more – the dopamine hit comes from having our predictions confirmed. Neuroscientist Valorie Salimpoor from McGill University likens it to a roller coaster ride: “You know what’s going to happen, but you can still be pleasantly surprised and enjoy it.”

These findings also help explain why people like to listen to the same song over and over again. We’re all guilty of it. We’re searching for that emotional hit.

Ed Large, a music psychologist at the University of Connecticut likens music to language. When people get together to listen to music, their brains synch in rhythmic ways, inducing a shared emotional experience. Other research supports Large’s theories about the impact of music on the brain, with different styles of music creating different rhythmic patterns. But while people’s brains might look the same, the emotional experience they derive from music is different. We’re all a product of our music preferences, borne by our personal history of listening to or performing music. We also have music associations – listen to a song that was popular back in high school and it’s hard not to feel a twinge of nostalgia.

Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time includes some gems from throughout the ages. Which way to the roller coaster?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Lost in Gesticulation

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According to the BBC, there are around 7,000 different languages in the world. It comes as no surprise, then, that the gestures we so often use to accompany our spoken words don’t automatically translate.

Sometimes they can even have the opposite intention, as pointed out by Bustle. Something as simple as the peace sign in the US means entirely the opposite in British countries.

Starting from the beginning, the term ‘gesticulate’ comes from the Latin ‘to gesture’ and literally means to ‘use gestures, especially dramatic ones, instead of speaking or to emphasize one’s words.’ We gesture for emphasis around certain words or a particular point we might be trying to make. It’s no coincidence that the evolution of the control of speech and hand movements have been traced back to the same area in the brain. And it’s not just for show – some of us even do it over the phone.

People use gestures to help them access memories. Sit on your hands next time you’re trying to tell a story and you might find your recall abilities are stumped. Gesturing also helps us when we’re talking about spatial concepts, like when we’re explaining how to operate something.

Some people are extreme gesticulators (check out Speak Italian: The Fine Art of the Gesture). Apparently one of the rules is to keep your gestures within the frame of your body and avoid going above your shoulder area, for fear of looking out of control. I say get out of control. Retrieve those memories and make your point. Just be weary of the humble peace sign next time you’re traveling abroad.