Thursday, January 28, 2016

Black Box Thinking

We’ve been told that ‘making mistakes is normal’ and ‘it could have happened to anybody’, but regardless of these assurances nobody feels good about making mistakes. In his book Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth About SuccessTIMES journalist Matthew Syed points out that even though we are always told to ‘embrace failure’, hardly anybody does.

Admitting failure is not easy – especially in business. It’s important to show people that they’re allowed to make mistakes but there is also the lesson of accountability. According to Syed, a “stigmatising attitude towards error” is the reality today despite the many articles telling us that mistakes generally are a good way to learn.

The truth is we’re afraid of making mistakes and even more afraid of admitting we’ve made one, which is why sometimes we try to cover up our errors to avoid fault. Removing the fear of making mistakes won’t stop you from making one, but according to an article in The Guardian, having the right attitude and state of mind enables us to learn lessons from our failures.

In Black Box Thinking, Syed argues that our attitude towards failure has serious implications and proposes a “rigorous testing of business strategies” to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. The airline industry is an example, as reflected in the title of the book. Syed reasons that flying has become the safest way to travel because we have learned from past failures and that we should take that ‘Black Box Thinking’ into other industries.

I agree. Past failures often are the foundation of success later on. We should fail fast, fix fast and then learn fast from our mistakes. And then move forward.

Image attribute/source: / / Matthew Syed

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

“Song For Jen” No. 1 For Cumbria Appeal

At the bedrock of my business and leadership philosophy is the idea that you have to move people if you want to get things done. Whether it’s turning a company around, getting a sports team to play well together, or asking a mom to buy a box of cereal, it always starts with connecting to people emotionally. The same holds true for major relief efforts. Don’t drown us in data, pile on the pie charts, or speak in lofty abstractions—tell me a story about a person.

Since December of last year, I’ve written several times about Storm Desmond, and the devastating impact its record-breaking rainfall had on the idyllic county of Cumbria in the English Lake District, including blocked roads, collapsed bridges, and thousands of flooded homes. The Cumbria Flood Recovery Appeal, launched by the Cumbria Community Foundation, has done tremendous work helping residents and businesses slowly begin to regain a sense of normalcy in the New Year.

The Appeal’s latest offering is perhaps its most emotional and popular yet. “Song for Jen,” written by Vaughan Kennedy and sung by Leeds-based singer Liz Keeting, is available for download from iTunes for just 79p, with every penny going direct to the Appeal, with no fees or expenses deducted.

The songwriter’s agent, Malcolm Thorogood, recently explained the story behind the song during an interview on UK radio. “Jen is a Kendal flood victim in her sixties who was living by herself. She was made homeless by the floods with no family near. She has lost everything,” Thorogood said. “Previously I had asked Vaughan Kennedy to send me a few songs on a CD from his ‘cupboard.’ It arrived the day after I learnt about Jen and one of those songs happened to be about a woman who had lost everything. I thought it was a perfect ‘Song for Jen’ and the thousands of others made homeless by the floods and therefore it could be a good fundraiser for Cumbria Flood Appeal.”

A testament to the impact organizations can have when they touch people’s lives emotionally. The morning after its first radio play, “Song for Jen” reached No. 1 on the iTunes UK “easy listening” chart—ahead of Andrea Bocelli—and currently charts at No. 39 worldwide. Please open your hearts, ears, and change purses to this beautiful work on behalf of a most worthy cause.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Who Do You Trust?

As I wrote recently, I’m focussed in 2016 on raising the ante on business leadership – across the board.  Why?  The UK MORI  Veracity Index published last week reports that more people expect their hairdressers (69%) to tell the truth than business leaders (35%).  This crisis in leadership continues with politicians now the least trusted group of all (21%), marginally less trusted than journalists (29%) and estate agents (25%).

The worst hit group are the clergy – once the most trusted profession in 1983 (85%), but now only 67% of people trust their priests.

And, reflecting the rise of social media, 68% of people expect the ordinary person on the street to be honest – way ahead of our so called leaders.  Time for leaders to stand up, to be transparent, to be Purpose driven and to set the agenda and standards again.  In other words, to lead.


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Thursday, January 21, 2016


Over the past 2 decades I’ve been driven by two passions, Creativity and Leadership. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent time combining the two with the MBAs and Marketing Students at Lancaster University’s Management School, 43 M.Phil in Management students at Cambridge University, and eight leaders from that cultural icon, the English Premier League. It's uplifting to see how hungry these young high potentials are…hungry for stories, ideas and experiences they can learn from, and it’s refreshing to see how rapidly they Fail, Learn and Fix……Fun is in the Air!!

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Winter In The Lakes

The North West of England has been battered by non-stop rain from October. Homes have been flooded – some in our Grasmere village four times in four months, the main A591 road is closed, the private road to my home has been eroded by landslides and is closed to vehicles until we can rebuild it, and tourism is down by 90%!! But Cumbrians can take it. The community is pulling together as strong communities do in times of crisis. And this morning we woke up to the picture above (from my living room). Nature is a wondrous, wonderful force.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

64 Shots

Dear KR Connect Reader…

Happy New Year. It’s not too late for this greeting, we’re just three weeks in, and especially if you’re Chinese…February 8; Year of the Monkey. Happy New Year. I’ve taken a break from KR Connect for the past month or so, as I’m rescheduling my business life around my focus as Head Coach of Publicis Groupe, and because 2016 means stirring the mix and becoming a little more serendipitous. The main reason for the break is that I’ve been putting the finishing touches to my new book due in June. It’s called 64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World.

64 is a magic number. There are 64 squares on a chess board; 64 positions in the Karma Sutra (but you knew that!); the country calling prefix for New Zealand is 64; 1964 was one of the great years; and there are 64 lessons in leadership that I’ve accrued during my life.

“Wow, 64 sounds a lot, leadership must be complicated,” you might be thinking. But it’s not, partly because I’ve written this book to guide you (!). And I don’t hear chess players wanting less squares or practitioners of the sensual arts calling for less possibility. 64 is a ‘just right’ number, in the same way author Douglas Adams proffered the meaning of life in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (it’s 42; go figure).

Over the next few months I’m going to preview parts of the book on KR Connect, but for today I simply want to announce it, and recognize a couple of people with me on the journey. I’m delighted to be back working with PowerHouseBooks of Brooklyn New York – Daniel Power and Craig Cohen. We made Lovemarks together in 2004 and the book is now in its 10th printing, 18 languages…and I’ve teamed up again with the Saatchi & Saatchi Design Worldwide team in Auckland under the leadership of Derek Lockwood. I want to single out senior designer Kane McPherson whose elegant creativity is matched by a calm temperament – handy when you’re designing books! This is Kane’s fourth or fifth book for the Saatchi & Saatchi library. Whereas Lovemarks screams “let’s shake this joint up,” 64 Shots is black + white, pared back, stripped down, inspirational I hope but also with a terse economy to the narrative.

There is an Amazon page up for the book, check it out, and stay tuned.