Wednesday, May 27, 2015

You’re Either Connected or Sleeping

Last week I spoke with Tom Keene and Brendan Greeley on “Bloomberg Surveillance” about the benefits of technology and being connected. Wherever you are in the world now you can participate and join in. That’s engagement. You can check it out here.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Over the Rainbow

I’ve seen the great Leonard Cohen Live over a dozen times – in London, New York, Toronto, Dublin and other places – from 1969 to 2014. Along with Dylan and Springsteen, he’s one of my favorite poets.

At a recent concert in Sydney, he was reminiscing on the stages a man goes through in terms of our ‘allure’ to the opposite sex.

For those of us who are also over the hill…

You start off irresistible,
Then you become resistible,
Then you become transparent,
Then you actually become invisible,
Then the most amazing transformation,
You become repulsive,
But that’s not the end of the story,
After repulsive you become cute.

And that’s where I am.

Attaboy Leonard!


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Monday, May 25, 2015

At a Loss for Loss

It’s hard to imagine a world where nothing and no-one gets lost. We’re getting close – you could say it’s been on the cards since the invention of the key hook by the front door, and more recently (and still for the sake of those darn keys) the Bluetooth keychain.

Could the current generation be the last to have any real sense of what it means to lose something or to get lost? When I say ‘real sense’ I’m talking about the feelings – the panic, the scare, the fluster, the fright – of losing an important or irreplaceable object. Or the anxiety and discombobulated feeling of being utterly lost, walking or driving aimlessly (but often rather determinedly) to find your way. Now, with the help of technology, we find things and we find our way. We no longer have to search, retrace our steps or problem-solve to find things. We no longer have to experience that feeling of dread or questioning.

Tim Wu plants the seed and recounts the agony of “nurturing a quiet pain” in the hope of finding something that was lost in a recent article on The New Yorker. Wu argues that there’s something to be gained by losing things. It helps toughen us. Shows us that the world is often “quite indifferent to our well-being.” He’s got a point.

Now we’re not quite at a loss for loss. We’re becoming less familiar with it, and future generations even more so. Does this mean that those future generations will suffer more when they do experience loss, because it will seem like a foreign experience to them? Perhaps. Wu calls it the “paradox of technological progress” – in our efforts to progress and to prevent vulnerability, we open ourselves up to vulnerability in other ways. Take note.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Customer Relationship Trump Card

An article by Christof Binder and Dominique M. Hanssens on Harvard Business Review provides further proof that Lovemarks are where it’s at when it comes to how and where to focus your business. They examined the value of brands and customer relationships – two key assets of any business – and found that over a decade, brand valuations declined by nearly half, while customer relationship values doubled.

This finding suggests a paradigm where businesses with strong customer relationships reign supreme over businesses with strong brands. The former comes with loyalty – often, beyond reason. It’s also helped by digital technologies that offer a direct link between businesses and customers, thereby improving efficiency and quality of interactions.

The lesson? I think we knew it all along. The lion’s share of effort for businesses should go towards reinforcing relationships in order to build a brand. Focus on the latter without integration with the former and you might end up with a strong brand, but it won’t necessarily keep your customers coming back.

Here are five ideas from the team at Lovemarks Campus for creating opportunities for customer relationships to begin and grow:
  1. Build in layers – create a sense of belonging and connection through revelation, not explanation. Explore your brand to find resonances that your customers can uncover.
  2. Know what time it is – saying the right thing at the right time speaks volumes. Be there for your customers when they’re in need. Have a presence in their daily lives.
  3. Fan the flame – all relationships go through stages of familiarity. Communicate and reward your customers according to where they are in their relationship with you.
  4. Create strong ties – communities and urban tribes, online and offline, are an important part of modern life. Think of ways of how your brand can be inclusive to friends and family.
  5. Give to receive – successful relationships work both ways.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Beyond The ‘New’

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‘New’ carries a sense of mystery and excitement. I’m not just talking about new objects and things, but ideas and concepts – we’re drawn to them. We often hold things that are new in higher esteem than what might be more appropriate or better. We get caught up in ‘newness’ and can sometimes lose sight of the central values and ideals that make things what they are in the first place.

Designer Hella Jongerius and theorist Louise Schouwenberg lament this focus on ‘new for the sake of new’ in a manifestoBeyond the New: A Search for Ideals in Design’. It asks that one stays true to values and ideals, and implores design companies to get out of the rat race and get back to focusing on the ideal of the “highest possible quality,” imbued with “cultural and historical meanings and values.”

I’ve selected a few nuggets from Jongerius and Schouwenberg’s manifesto here:
  • Cultural and historical awareness are woven into the DNA of any worthwhile product… There is value in continually re-examining what already exists, delving into the archives, poring over the classics.
  • Design is not about products. Design is about relationships.
  • By means of its language and employment of techniques, good design expresses both the zeitgeist and a deep awareness of the past.
  • Without play, there can be no design that inspires the user. Without foolishness and fun there can be no imagination.
  • An industry that is willing to embrace new challenges and experimentation has the power to exploit the full potential of existing and new technologies, including the digital media.
The point is that a shift in mentality is required. ‘New’ doesn’t always mean better. We need to look back – to ideas, objects, and concepts – to look forward. New means dealing with today’s challenges and possibilities, while giving a solid nod to the past. It’s much richer than just ‘new’.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Building an Engaged Economy

The ‘Disengagement Economy’ - what a terrible term. In an article on Huffington Post, Robert Hall describes it as the result of a broader mega-trend, the “steep relationship decline across home, work, politics and faith.”

Every business is concerned about the productivity, commitment, performance, creativity and innovation of their staff, but it comes as no surprise that people are disinterested in work. There are too many leadership approaches and methods stuck in a bygone era. Turning up to work every day doesn’t constitute commitment, and the more people are restricted by the maze that is bureaucracy, the less innovative they are likely to be.

Having Millennials in our workforce has driven the importance of employee engagement and culture, and the key focus is on relationships – prioritizing productive employee and customer relationships (because they’re the “most valuable, value-creating and value-sustaining asset” to quote Hall) and building relationships that are grounded in a ‘commitment-worthy’ purpose.

Hall also talks about multiplying your power by giving it away. Straight from Zen. I sing the same tune – as a leader, your job is to create leaders by empowering them and giving them the decisions to make. To sustain a company, you’ve got to have leaders at every level, not just at the top. A leader is someone who inspires everyone they come into contact with to be the best they can be.

Every generation is different. Millennials are committed to their jobs, they want to work at socially responsible companies and they carry expectations of having a dream job or self-management. I say that providing freedom, not rigidity, is the key to harnessing engagement and talent. Let them go and get out into the world, to have other adventures and start their own ventures. This is how we’ll counter the “Disengagement Economy’ – by building a culture of enthusiasm, experience and fresh ideas.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Vote to Make Whangarei a Lovemark

How often does a small-to mid-sized city have the chance to remake itself as a cultural, artistic, and tourism hub? The founding of museums such as the Clifford Still Museum in Denver, the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Gehry Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, are once-in-a-generation events that have had transformative impact on those towns.

Whangarei, capital of the Northland Region of New Zealand, now has the opportunity to join that esteemed list. A public binding referendum from May 14 through June 5 will determine whether the city will build the Hundertwasser Wairau Maori Art Center to honor the life and work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Austrian artist and architect came to New Zealand in 1976, creating a sustainable sanctuary in 372 ha of the entire Kaurinui valley near Kawakawa, Northland, and becoming a New Zealand citizen while maintaining a worldwide practice of exhibitions, architectural commissions, and writing. He immersed himself in nature and its humanistic relationship with art. Hundertwasser was buried at Kaurinui following his death at sea in 2000. A community-led group has pledged to raise the required $12m+ funds, with ratepayers expected to contribute just $2.8m to prepare Whangarei District Council-owned building for the major Hundertwasser refurbishment.

The art center will be a unique tribute to one of last century’s seminal artists and a great gift to the people of New Zealand. The art center will be the last Hundertwasser-designed building in the world (the Vienna-based Hundertwasser Non-Profit Foundation retrieved the original sketches from their archive and have given the project their full blessing and support. Using the original 1990’s Hundertwasser design, Heinz Springman, the architect on numerous Hundertwasser’s projects, has produced plans for the cultural center that captures the artist’s vision of boldly colored paintings and structural designs that use irregular forms and incorporate natural features into the landscape. The site in the heart of Whangarei’s beautiful waterfront and the facility would be a multi-faceted, multi-functional building with a state-of-the-art main gallery alongside New Zealand’s first curated contemporary Maori Art Gallery.

The art center promises to become an instant landmark—an iconic structure that will attract visitors from throughout New Zealand and the world. It will also be a boon to the local economy, with estimates suggesting the Art Centre will attract over 140,000 visitors each year, to the tune of $3.5 million per annum in net economic benefit to New Zealand’s Northland Region. Indeed, a report from worldwide consulting giant Deloitte states: “The Hundertwasser Art Centre will deliver cultural benefits at a local, national and international level and is well placed to make a solid economic contribution to the community.”

What cannot be measured in dollars, however, is the impact the museum would have on Whangarei’s identity. The Hundertwasser Wairau Maori Art Center would give New Zealand’s Northland region a way of distinguishing itself on the world stage—in the process instantly transforming the locale into a tourism magnet, and making the city synonymous with a great artist who deeply loved New Zealand and honored its Maori heritage. City branding does not generally happen overnight, and artistic and economic opportunities like this are rare. This referendum vote is a no-brainer from my perspective. Residents and ratepayers of Whangarei: Say yes to Hundertwasser!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Best Teachers

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I recently quoted from an article on The Guardian, “The best teachers instill a hunger to learn, and not just in their pupils.” Mike Boyle wrote to me saying that “As a facilitator and advisor for nearly 20 years I have run a small workshop on leadership role models and used one simple question: "Describe the best teacher you have ever had".” He says that “without fail these comments always come up:
  1. Fun
  2. Hard but fair
  3. Engaging
  4. Insightful
  5. Passion
  6. A coach
  7. Listener
  8. Highest integrity
  9. Respected
  10. Trusted
He adds “the description is never any different and yet so many teachers fall short of this.”

Here’s a starter-for-eight on a list of traits shared by great teachers, as well as by articles on The Washington Post (Chris Lehmann) and The Telegraph (Barnaby Lenon):
  1. Passion – they love what they do, which is why they do it so well. It’s hard to teach. Doug Lemov might argue the latter.
  2. Dynamic – they’re constantly changing and adapting to their environment. They try new teaching methods and they’re flexible with different types of students.
  3. Curiosity – they have a constant drive for improvement – in their students, as well as themselves.
  4. Engaging – their work is driven by energy and enthusiasm. Each day they put on a show in front of an audience.
  5. Substance – they know the material they’re teaching inside and out. They understand how to make it interesting to learn.
  6. Discipline – they’re hard, but fair. ‘A velvet hand in an iron glove’ is a nice way to put it.
  7. Listen – they listen and they reflect. They have integrity.
  8. Work ethic – they have it and it just won’t quit.
Think back to some of the best teachers that you had – what made them so special?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Keep Asking Questions Until Something Interesting Happens

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Brian Grazer (who has produced films such as Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, and most recently the James Brown biopic Get on Up) aims to show how curiosity is a driving force behind success at life and work - perhaps even more so than innovation and creativity – in his book A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.

‘Curiosity conversations’ had by Grazer with various visionaries over a number of decades informed not only the book, but are also claimed to be the creative inspiration behind many of Grazer’s movies and TV shows. His approach to these conversations was simple: “keep asking questions until something interesting happens.”

He argues that people should invest more in their natural curiosity and actively seek out different perspectives for self-improvement. This means talking to people, all sorts of people, who have different backgrounds and different ways of looking at the world, and listening – really listening – and taking it all in. In Grazer’s words, the result: “I seek out their perspective and experience and stories, and by doing that, I multiply my own experience a thousandfold.”

Grazer shared some of his insights on curiosity in a recent interview with CNET. I’ve borrowed (and elaborated) a handful here.
  • Curiosity is a process of asking open-ended, genuine questions, and not expecting anything in return.
  • Being curious takes courage. Sometimes it means stepping outside of your comfort zone and climbing a steep learning curve.
  • Curiosity can bring discomfort, such as when you’re exposed to a point of view that’s in conflict with your own. It can be confronting, but it can also be a valuable experience.
  • When it comes to conditions for evoking curiosity, technology is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. When you meet with someone, there’s a physical connection, a biochemical event that breeds discussion, ideas and questioning.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Digital Dysphonia Dilemma

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I’m talking about a dilemma that applies to Gen-Z – the cohort born in the mid-to-late 1990s, after the millennial generation. They were born into a digital world, which means they don’t know a life without computers, cellphones and the internet. They have online personas [which might seem like a foreign concept to the vast (but dwindling) majority of people in older cohorts] that are utterly important to their sense of self. So much so that their real life communications skills may be suffering.

According to research highlighted by Tony Spong on Marketing Magazine, Gen-Z’s penchant for the digital world means some of them are lacking in ‘epistemic trust’. It’s a kind of trust that you develop through face-to-face communication, with filters that allow us to make snap judgments about body language and non-verbal cues to determine if someone is telling the truth.

Interesting fact: “Children as young as 18-24 months can distinguish between someone telling the truth or not based on key elements of body language.”

In the digital world, Gen-Z have adopted a whole new language for conveying emotions, using emoticons, acronyms and initialisms. But these shortcut methods aren’t exactly a perfect substitute, and all too often things get lost in communication, and not just online. Some Gen-Z’s are experiencing confusion when it comes to real-world interactions, particularly when it comes to meeting digital friends in person because they seem different in real life. As Spong points out, it’s almost as if some of their epistemic filters are missing.

The take away for brands is that there are consequences as they seek to reach Gen-Z’ers in the digital realm. They need to be thinking about their online persona, and how this translates into their persona in the physical world, so as to ensure they remain (or become) connected with this important cohort.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Data, Debate and Solving Problems

The situation is this. You have a big problem. You set out to tackle it, starting with facts and data. Then you pit two people against each other in a debate. And like a debate, they argue the toss – informed by the same set of facts and data – until there’s an obvious winner and a solution to your problem. The approach is used by Google and was recently highlighted on KMBZ.

But it’s not always the Google way – another approach is to make a decision when it’s simply the right thing to do, and the data comes later (because data isn’t everything).

The two-pronged approach to solving problems strikes a balance between structure and creativity, creating an environment that fosters the development of ideas and solutions that are outside of the square.

It’s also similar to my philosophy on solving problems – big decisions with heart, little ones with head. Now, of course there’s no sure-fire method of ensuring you’ll always make the right decision, no matter what your approach – but that’s what business is all about. The wrong decision? Never. Learn from it and move on.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Learning to Learn Better

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It’s exam revision time (that’s British for “studying,”). One of my proudest moments was being named Governor at my old school, Lancaster Royal Grammar (after been booted out at age 16). As students across the UK and the U.S. gear up for their all-important GSCE, A-levels, APs, regents, and SATs, I’m happy to don the academic robes and offer some practical suggestions for exam prep based on a lifetime of learning, studying, memorizing, forgetting, and sometimes getting it right.

Decades of research about teaching, psychology, and memory has taught us how to learn better, and that learning and studying is equal parts science and art. In a recent article in The Guardian, Tom Stafford, a lecturer in psychology and cognitive science at the University of Sheffield, describes a research study that suggests computer games as an ideal model for studying learning. Think about it: people spend countless hours practicing computer games, and all their actions are automatically recorded and scored. Analyzing how more than 850,000 people learned to play games allowed researchers to test existing theories of learning and suggested some powerful tips and techniques, including:
  1. Space Your Studying:
    “If you want to study effectively, you should spread out your revision rather than cramming,” writes Stafford, who relays how those who took time between games scored higher.
  2. Fail Fast, Learn Fast, Fix Fast:
    The same study showed that the most inconsistent players at the start had better scores later on. One theory is that those players were more interested in exploring how the game worked than simply trying to top the high score each time out. As a result, their learning was more engaged and fun.
  3. Practice What You’ll Be Tested On, the Way You’ll Be Tested:
    Rote memorization is not enough. “If your exam involves writing an essay,” writes Stafford, “you need to practice essay-writing.” [The All Blacks call this “Training to win”.]
  4. Structure information:
    Reorganization the material in some way, an approach called “depth of processing,” is a good way to ensure that material gets fixed in memory. Says Stafford, “Just looking at your notes won’t help you learn them.”
  5. Get Some Shut-Eye:
    Pulling all-nighters is not a good idea. Research shows that getting a full night’s sleep helps you learn new skills and retain information.
In a similarly themed article in the Telegraph, Britain’s “Grand Master of Memory” Ed Cooke also warns of the dangers of cramming. “Let’s say on day one of the holidays you learn a bunch of stuff,” Cooke says. “You could just cram, cram, cram, move on to the next thing and cram, cram, cram. But you’ll basically have to relearn it all again the night before the exam because you’ll have forgotten everything… The biggest mistake you can make is just to keep reading it over and over to yourself.”

As an advertising man, I always come back to the importance of storytelling and the primacy of human emotion—forces that factor into studying techniques and memory. “If a fact means nothing to you, you won’t remember it,” say Cooke. “So when you’re first learning something, it’s important to relate what you’re learning to things you already know. Memories are about connections with other things in your mind—you can’t just put a memory into nowhere. It has to connect with other memories, and that’s a very personal thing.” Some techniques for making learning and studying personal include linking information to anecdotes about people in your life, and deploying memory triggers like rhymes, acronyms, puns, and pneumonic devices.

What parents shouldn’t do, warns the BBC, is offer children bribes, treats, and rewards in exchange for academic success. “Bribery is not a good idea as it implies that the only worthwhile reward for hard work is money and that you don’t trust your child to work hard,” the BBC reports. “Negative messages like these will affect your child’s sense of self-worth.” Just remember—parents, kids, and pedagogues—what all that learning is meant to be for. And good luck this exam season!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Generation Next Miami 15 May

If you’re a young leader in the Miami area looking to put a rocket under your career, register for free by May 8 for an extraordinary day of learning on May 15, at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel. I’m MC at “Generation Next”, a leadership track specifically designed for young adults at the biennial P&G Alumni Network Global Conference.

Those lucky enough to get a ticket will be exposed to some of the brightest and most successful minds in business:
  • Melanie Healey – Group President, North America, Procter & Gamble
  • Chip Bergh – CEO, Levi Strauss
  • Bracken Darrell – CEO, Logitech
  • Alberto Carvalho – Presidente, Brazil Operations Procter & Gamble
  • Gary Briggs – Chief Marketing Officer, Facebook
  • Lisa Gevelber – Vice President Marketing, Google
  • Monica Sanchez – Practice Leader, Dieste
  • Kay Napier – CEO, Arbonne International
  • Peter Hempstead – Board Director, World Kitchen
  • Kip Knight – President, US Retail Operations H&R Block
  • Pat McKay – Partner, ArchPoint Consulting
  • Jim Stengel – CEO, The Jim Stengel Company
  • Chuck Baker – CEO, Cayenne Technologies
  • Anne Sempowski Ward – CEO, Thymes
The program is loaded with everything young leaders need to accelerate down their chosen path – a full day of learning, values, fun and inspiration for Generation Next. It will also be an extraordinary networking opportunity.

If you’re interested you must register in advance. Simply go to and provide the information asked for. No walk ups will be allowed so please register now.

Registrations will be processed in the order they are received; space is limited so if you want to attend please register as soon as possible.

Gen Next is for go-getters, world changers and winners. As ESPN Coach of the Century Vince Lombardi said: “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Emotion & Our Techno-Economic Future

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Emotions are subjective. The only way you can really know how another person is feeling is to ask them. And even then you’re relying on their emotional intelligence and their ability to communicate, honestly. There are nuances and complexities with emotions, and we’re only just scratching the surface.

Emotions are something that humans have and computers simply don’t, or at least that was the case until recently. Technology is catching up. “And the real world will never be the same,” says Steven Kotler in an article in Forbes.

He’s right, if progress is anything to go by; we’re entering an entirely new realm. One where technology is becoming so advanced that algorithms can read human emotions better than humans can. The future is an exposed place if you prefer a little self-containment.

Kotler refers to the ‘Emotional Economy’ as the next wave in techno-economic development. Think the ‘Internet of Things’ on steroids – a giant network of connections between devices, but with the ability to understand human emotions.

For example, you might be travelling home from work one day, thinking about all the things you didn’t manage to cross off your to-do list, and your car and phone detect your anxiety and fire up the coffee machine for you at home. Or perhaps you’re in a Skype meeting with a colleague that doesn’t seem to be going very well, and your computer alerts you to your colleague’s anxiety level, so you can work on addressing it.

Face-to-face, or in this case, face-to-computer, scientists have also found that computers are better at detecting sincerity of facial emotions than humans. Here, there’s still an element of mystery – computers are only reading a person’s physical response to emotions. They don’t really know what’s going on inside – but they chance a pretty good guess at it.

But that’s where things are changing. Once able to conceal our emotions to suit the situations we find ourselves in or the company we keep, but perhaps not for much longer with the rise of the Emotional Economy. A degree of emotional exposure looks like it will be part of our future, but for now, there’s some comfort in knowing that our emotions are ours for sharing.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Neural Ballet

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When it comes to stories, the majority of us tend to read or watch them, but listening to stories being told (just like our ancestors did) is becoming increasingly popular. Talking books have been around for some time, but it’s the podcast that’s really produced a thriving mini-industry in the last few years.

An article by Kevin Roose on New York magazine gave three key reasons behind the podcast’s golden age:
  1. The stories are good, right up there with popular television series and backed by decent budgets and industry expertise;
  2. The economics are hard to argue with; and
  3. We’re becoming a bunch of otherwise-engaged travelers, consuming media everywhere we go. Even our cars are well-equipped with mod-cons that connect people with streaming audio.
So we’re becoming a world of listeners, but do the stories still engage us in the same way that reading or watching does? “A good story’s a good story from the brain’s perspective, whether it’s audio or video or text,” says Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

The Atlantic asked the question of Zak, why do audio stories captivate? In a nutshell, his answer was tension – it’s what all of the best stories have, woven into a type of universal structure that carries some sort of challenge or conflict. It sparks a connection, both emotionally and intellectually. We become transported into the story, feeling it and empathizing with the characters. Zak describes it aptly as ‘neural ballet’ – we’re not physically part the story, but our brain responds to it like we are.

Research has found that podcasts that use a dramatized audio structure, with voice actors to tell the story, stimulate listeners’ imagination and interest in a story, over narration. Sound effects have been shown to help too. It’s all part of building your own personal image of a story in your mind. “You’re creating your own production,” says Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra Unviersity in Barcelona.

What could be more captivating than that?