Monday, February 29, 2016

Sic Transit Gloria

Through the years I’ve collected my fair share of injuries, largely on various sports fields in the pursuit of victory. A broken elbow, a broken nose, a torn ACL, a broken ankle, numerous calf, achilles and hamstring tears, a shin cut open, torn ankle ligaments, a broken finger. Four days ago I tore my left hamstring, a nasty grade 2 injury which will take a good 4 – 6 weeks to repair – not on the glorious sports field – but on sprinting (!!!) to catch a four year old grandchild on a runaway Flying Fox. Sic transit gloria!!

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Manchester City Win Capital One Trophy

The first trophy of the 2015-2016 season has come home to the Etihad. Our second win in three seasons – our third in 40!!!! (Before the current era we won this trophy last in 1975-76.) Enjoying the feast after 40 years of famine!!!

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Spotting Potential

The phenomenon of ‘pre-purchase’ is a sign of star power in our fast-moving consumer world. If the hype is big enough, people are willing to pay full price for a product without full knowledge of how good it really is. Guaranteed revenue before review is a coup for any film, record and publishing company trying to win in a market of short-attention spans. Disney made $100 million in ticket pre-orders from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The latest Harry Potter book only took hours to hit number 1 in book sales, and it won’t even be released until July.

The reason why people invest in experiences purely on faith comes from the same place that favors potential over achievement. A person who walks into my office with a list of degrees and awards shows a level of skill. But when I meet a person who may not have as many achievements, but whose thinking, articulation and attitude show me that he/she is capable of accomplishing great things – that gets me excited. The possibility of what can be done is a lot more appealing than what you know will be done. This is why Beyoncé can sell tickets for a world tour in advance of an album she has yet to release.

So why are we attracted to the unknown? Apparently it’s a human psychological bias that leans us in that direction. A study by Stanford University professor Zakary Tormala explains that it is the mystery that draws us in. “It's as if people engage more as they try to work through the uncertainty and figure out what the truth will be,” says Tormala.

Superbosses, a term coined by academic Sydney Finkelstein, are particularly aware of the importance of incorporating people with potential into groups of achievers. The key is to not limit what these unique individuals can do by putting them into an assigned box. That just kills potential. Finkelstein gives some good examples in an article in the Harvard Business Review from iconic institutions like Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse restaurant, George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic and Saturday Night Live.

All this light on potential is not, however, a reason to discount achievement. Racking up accomplishments is good. People with potential have to eventually realize their abilities else they remain ‘could’ves’. Knowing that you have people in your team who can perform based on their track record, is important for any leader. Ultimately, you hire for capability. Looking for potential is just discovering the capability that may not be so obvious.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A Week In American Life

For anyone wanting to make sense of America during the circus of the 2016 presidential election preliminaries, there are three standout reference points from the last week.

The first is the funeral of Justice Antonin Scalia in Washington D.C. on Saturday, televised in full by CNN without break. The Catholic requiem mass was led by one of Scalia’s nine children, his son Paul, a priest in Arlington. Antonin Scalia was celebrated as a provocative, learned, conservative force in the interpretation and protection of the American Constitution. He made judgments about human nature and behavior; how institutions are meant to work; how the economy operates; how freedoms are decided and rights determined. The televised funeral reached heights of euphoria in terms of symbolism, ceremony, ritual, song and music, in a rite that was as assured as it has been practiced over millennia across all cultures. Paul Scalia was a revelation officiating over his father’s farewell, bringing theology, grace, and purpose to the passing of a big life.

Contrast the poise of this farewell to the week’s second reference point, the brawls and odium of the presidential trail. Dirty and vicious are understatements. I have never seen so much mud, vile, hatred, resentment, blatant racism, bullying, braggadocio, and hot air (and a bit of foam). It seems that to be president, you can say whatever you want, promise whatever you want, and give any number of undertakings without regard to reality. Some candidates have made some truly inflammatory statements – and some have said many things that are truly unmemorable. As Paul Simon wrote many moons ago:

Going to the candidatesdebate.
Laugh about it, shout about it.
When youve got to choose.
Every way you look at this you lose.”

The third reference point is the ‘rapping Founding Fathers’ Broadway musical sensation Hamilton – about the guy on the $10 bill – which won a Grammy last week for Best Musical. Politics was even more rough and tumble back then – they literally shot each other. The line in the show which gets the biggest response is when Marquis de Lafayette and Hamilton are about to ­basically win the Revolutionary War and they say, "Immigrants: They get the job done," and then they high five.

If there is a message at the end of this, it is that both Antonin Scalia and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda were born to immigrant parents. Building walls is not the way to make America great. Ideas are the way forward. As has been noted, Steve Jobs was the son of Syrian immigrants to America. Antonin Scalia was hailed as a man who had “ideas that will live after him.” I hope the 2016 race will dignify itself with workable ideas.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The New Hollywood

Most of the movie output now is lazy.  Franchise roll-outs (time for Bond to retire), spin-offs, prequels, sequels and Marvel comic adaptations.  Why?  All the top talent are now producing, directing, writing and acting in TV series on cable, satellite networks and Amazon.  Why cram everything superficially into two hours (unless you are the genius Tarantino), when you can take 7 series of 10 shows of 50 minutes to develop plots, sub-plots and characters.

I’m traveling through Asia at the moment and am bingeing on these shows on the endless flights.  So far this year I’ve been enjoying:
  1. Mr. Robot
  2. Better Call Saul, Series 2
  3. Fargo, Series 2
  4. The Jinx
  5. The Fall
  6. The Blacklist, Series 3
  7. Blindspot
  8. Banshee
  9. The Americans
  10. Billions
And I can’t wait for Quentin to finish his movies and get into this genre.


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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Who Do You Dine With?

The dining table is the stage for much of the theatre in our lives. It’s where we tell stories. It’s where things happen that become stories. The drama can be in the events before the main course or after dessert. Sometimes the story is not about what was said during the meal, it’s about what wasn’t said across the table.

We know that how we feel about certain food reflects who we are, but who we choose to dine with also reveals a little bit about ourselves.

More and more people around the world are eating alone. In Amsterdam, there’s a restaurant that only serves tables for one. The same in Japan; the difference being that you eat alone in a cubicle!

A 2012 study in America by the Hartman Group revealed that 46% of all eating done by adults was done solo. In previous decades this may constitute eating in front of the television, whereas now it is more likely in front of a computer. When we eat alone in front of a screen (usually at work), we are focused on the “mechanics of eating”. We don’t give much thought about how our food tastes and are transfixed on the task at hand. We prioritize focus over feasting.

Fortunately, dinner is still a communal meal in America, even if our smartphones join us at the dinner table. But in countries where a high number of people find themselves dining solo, they have come up with unusual ways to connect with others over a meal.

In South Korea, there is a trend where people tune into live Internet shows where they watch other people eat. Sangyoub Park, a sociologist at Washburn University, explained in an article on NPR that a possible explanation was that people didn’t want to eat alone and found comfort sharing a meal with someone else – even if that person was online. In Japan, you can prop your phone on a bowl and talk to an anime character while you enjoy a bowl of ramen.

My preference is to dine with people whose company I enjoy. Life’s too short to break bread with people you have no interest in spending time with, and I’ll happily go solo when required. However, there’s nothing better than a meal with friends and family. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one person, or a table of 20. They can be 4 or 84 years old. You’ve got to take the opportunity when it comes your way. It’s a great time to re-connect, to empathize, to relive old memories and create new ones. It’s one thing that gets even more important as you get older.

Image attribute/source: Een Maal /

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Optimal Humans

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll recognize the term ‘Peak Performance’. We wrote a book about it and talked to people all over the world about how to keep winning in business and in life.

All this started way back in the 90s before the study of optimal performance became a mainstream phenomenon. Today, there’s a whole industry dedicated to teaching people how to be the best they can be. It ranges from the very general, like how to set goals and think positively, to scientifically analyzing the microbiomes in your digestive system to improve your emotional wellbeing. Let’s just say the field has become really broad.

When there’s a flood of material on any topic, it’s nice to have the basics delivered in a way that is simple to read and easy to understand. In this instance, the article is called “How to Be an Optimal Human”. It’s published in the New Scientist and is a summary of a book titled Optimal Human Being written by Ken Sheldon, a psychologist at the University of Missouri who specializes in the study of motivation.

I’ve picked a few key ideas from the article and paraphrased them here:
  1.  Balance the basics - Having our basic needs met is the first step towards becoming the best version of ourselves. Naturally, some areas of our lives will be more developed than others. We may feel safe, but our self-esteem may suffer. Or we may have great relationships, but are physically unhealthy. Identify which of your basic needs require more attention and focus on building them up.
  2.  Create goals that resonate with who you are - The meaning behind achievement comes when our accomplishments resonate with our identity. Edward de Bono: "There’s no point being brilliant at the wrong thing”. When your goals reflect who you are, being motivated to do the work also comes a lot easier. It never feels like you’re being forced to put in the hard yards.
  3.  Take care of the 'outside' and 'inside' - Sometimes people are mistaken about what makes them happy. They only focus on changing the things around them, thinking that it is the ultimate show of success. They want a bigger pay cheque, a more prestigious title. However, it must be warned that the happiness quotient on these extrinsic goals are not as strong as intrinsic goals (i.e. better relationships, building a community). Set goals in both camps.
  4.  Work on the tough stuff – “Just be yourself” may not be the right advice to give a person who is trying to reach their goals. The challenges that stop us from being our best are external, but more often, within us. It’s always the hardest to start with the “I”. But if there’s something in your character, be honest about what may be holding you back and work through it.
  5.  It’s okay to change your goals – When you’re on a journey, on occasion your final destination may change. If you discover that your initial goals were not really reflective of who you want to be and who you are, it’s okay to alter the course along the way.

Image source: Brian Joseph

Monday, February 15, 2016

Destino Portugal

I’ve fallen in love with Portugal. I was invited to speak to Portugal’s business leaders from Lisbon and Porto at the University of Porto Business School led by the savvy Ramon O’Callaghan – Irish by name, Catalan by birth, but turning Portuguese in his new Porto gig. And hosted splendidly by Man City friends Luis and Francisco. Both Porto born and bred…And their beautiful partners…the M&M’s!!! The historic harbor city of Porto is an absolute charmer, the setting-off point in the 14th and 15th centuries for several of the world’s great sea voyages of discovery, mapping and trade (in the ‘famous Portuguese’ page on Wikipedia there are 88 explorers, navigators and pioneers, heading off 25 saints and a couple of football players).

Portugal has been in the doldrums, struggling out of the banking and debt crisis of 2008 (and onwards) that imperiled the USA and several European countries. Over 200,000 young people left, any discretionary income people had went on debt, and combined national debt (government, corporate, household) soared to over 300% of GDP. Several positive things have happened though. Portugal is 10.6 million people so it’s not so cumbersome to pivot (tourism regions, for examples, were condensed from 17 to 5 to have a clearer marketing focus); the government brought in effective measures to collect taxes (and unlike Greece, the citizens have been co-operative); government, the largest single employer in the country, has cut layers of red tape to improve business competitiveness; and most impressively, the country’s producers – manufacturers and service providers (including tourism operators) have cranked Portugal’s exports up to 40% of GDP. Young people – digital natives – have become entrepreneurs and start-ups are an emergent economic benefit. Tourism is the biggest export earner, with perfect weather, miles of coastline, and historic cities with a funky urban vibe. Direct international flight connections could improve. At its core, Portugal is Category 1 country for democracy, political rights and civil liberties, ranked 12th in the world for press freedom, 20th for democracy, and 28th for corruption (must do better). GDP is US$230B. Over three million people speak English. And did I say the weather is perfect?

During my visit I was interviewed several times by national media. Coming from New Zealand, people were interested in the perspective from a ‘small, remote, coastal country with a big neighbor.’ I am very interested in how cities, regions and countries develop and articulate a distinct global positioning, find their sweet spot in the world. We reframed New Zealand as the world’s “edge”. Knowing your One Word Equity is basic marketing practice. Say 'Portugal' to most people in the world and mostly, you’ll get silence, a stare...“er?” For a country that once had an empire of four million square miles, Portugal has shrunken its moxie, dimmed its sense of purpose. There is a tendency towards pessimism in Portuguese society, which is paradoxical to their approach to life in many ways. The Portuguese music fado is a form of music “characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fatefulness and melancholia.” (Wikipedia)

To which I say, “The only thing wrong with Portugal is that people say there’s something wrong with Portugal.” Time for some radical optimism. In Portugal I found energy and desire. The people I met want to achieve, accelerate, transform and expand the business base of the country in an authentic context, not with imported models. I came away believing that Portugal is a country on the move, and so my one word equity for Portugal is Destiny. Destino. Revolution starts with language. The right language can move an entire population together in one direction. Every action – meta, macro and micro – can be inspired by the language. Destiny. That sounds like the right place to be headed.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Books, Books, Books

I grew up loving books. Looking at them, reading them, treasuring them, feeling them. To this day I can’t resist the feel of a beautiful hard book… not for me the convenience of E-books. I love the mystery, sensuality and intimacy of a fresh pristine hardback. And the best books of all (second place goes to Taschen whom I adore) come from Genesis – made in the UK since 1974.

A private publisher – focused on rock, photography and UK culture…. Limited, signed, beautiful works of art.

I just bought Maximum Who and The Traveling Wilbury’s yesterday – inside stones and treasures of these 2 great bands. Contributors include Peter Blake, George Martin, Ringo Starr, and Eric Clapton. Long may Genesis thrive.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

And Another Mother With 3 Kids Stopped And Searched

Over the past decade I’ve spent endless hours trundling through airport security in dozens of the world’s airports, and apart from when I fly EI-AI, I’m unconvinced that it makes a security difference at all. As Edward de Bono once told me, “There’s no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing”. And that’s where the system fails. Unlike EI-AI every airport focuses on the wrong thing. It looks for weapons/explosives not for terrorists. It looks at the airport not at the airplane. And it focuses on routine consistency/process not the unpredictable.

Some observations:

US Homeland Security recently ran 70 tests in different airports trying to get bombs and weapons through security. Only 3 were detected.

In the last 4 years 30,000 people have reported items being stolen from their checked luggage in the US.  Pretty easy then to add something in the hold, as well as take it away.

Vetting of airport staff is far from foolproof.  The insider job is not given the priority the passenger list is.

We need to take some of the pain out of air travel, and simultaneously raise our security defenses… better passenger profiling, thus reducing security checkers workload, more varied unpredictable spot-checks…sniffer dogs, better airport staff vetting and enhanced luggage/hold security surveillance.

We must be brilliant at the Right Thing.


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Monday, February 8, 2016

The Food Hall As A Lovemark

Is there a better Food Hall in the world than Harrods in Knightsbridge? The best fresh fish, amazing shellfish, ethnic delights from Lebanon, India, Hong Kong, with the best of traditional British scattered all around.  Cheeses sans pareil, cold cuts extraordinaire, all beautifully laid out and displayed mystery, sensuality and intimacy in action.  Not to mention,  the live in real time dining options of The Caviar House, Galvin Demoiselle’s Bistro, Bentley’s Sea Food, The Steakhouse, etc, etc.  Harrods is Europe’s biggest department store with 330 departments and one million square feet of retail space.  And my favorite.  Its motto Omnia Omnibus Ubique (sounds very Amazon!) - All Things for All People Everywhere… and the Food Hall is its finest moment.


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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Negotiation Across Nations

It’s no longer unusual to do business that transcends borders. What used to be an exception has become the norm in the world of global connectedness we live in. Negotiating business across different nations and cultures, however, can be quite challenging as many things that are acceptable or even expected in one culture are a no-go in another.

A diagram on The Harvard Business Review’s website visualizes different countries’ negotiation styles. It places countries on two axes depending on their acceptance of emotions and confrontation in business negotiations. “For cold-as-fish negotiations, go to northern Europe or eastern Asia. If you want hugs and small talk with your deal go to a Latin country,” as Frank Jacobs sums it up in an article on In some ways he’s right. I have travelled across the world and have done business in quite a few places – it still astounds and fascinates me how different we tend to approach business in different places.

It all sounds relatively easy. Do your research and be respectful. But when you’re sitting at the negotiation table and you’ve got a goal in mind, it suddenly is a lot more difficult. And the styles depicted by The Harvard Business Review’s diagram are not the only things to look out for. Cultural differences already begin with different ways of greeting each other, eye contact or the composition of your negotiation team.

An article in the International Journal of Economics and Finance points out some of these differences – Chinese for instance greet each other with personal questions and Japanese exchange gifts before starting a first business meeting, while in most Western countries negotiations tend to be strictly about business.

Considering there are so many different dos and don’ts when it comes to intercultural negotiations it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes conventions even change within cultures. In China and India for instance, there can be up to 30 different regions, each with their own conventions, as noted in an article in the South China Morning Post.

Erin Meyer, professor and program director for Managing Global Virtual Teams at INSEAD, suggests finding a cultural bridge – someone who is from the other culture or knows the other culture intimately – to help you at the negotiation table.  Interestingly some anticipate these differences in styles to disappear in about 20 years as a result of generational change, globalisation and digital connectivity.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

World Changing Lancaster University

For the last five years I’ve worked as part of the MBA program at my hometown Lancaster University’s Management School (LUMS).  Chris Saunders ran the program during this period and Peter Lenney, leader of the Mindful Manager program, took over this year.

Despite being ‘only’ 50 years old, and being located a fair way from London and urban Britain, the School is making waves.  I teach a Leadership decision-making module four times a year, using the real life, real time world of Saatchi & Saatchi to stimulate pragmatic thinking, not just theoretical cases.  The problem – and solutions – are played out in real time in front of the class’s eyes.  The students work individually and in teams and love the pace and turbulence of the real world.

The Global MBA rankings – based on 2012 graduates’ rankings have just been published:
  • Overall LUMS Ranking Globally – 35 – behind the normal suspects Harvard, Stanford, INSEAD etc,
  • UK LUMS Ranking – 4 (behind London, Oxford and Cambridge – not bad company to keep),
  • LUMS Global Ranking for Strategy – 1 (ahead of Harvard),
  • LUMS Global Ranking for General Management – 8 (behind Darden, Harvard, Tuck, Stanford and Northwestern),
  • LUMS Global Ranking for International Business – 5.
Winning the World from the Edge.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Chasing Sticks

Every January my old friend Robin and his wife Marline leave the snows of Canada for a sojourn in Hawaii, in the little village where Robin proposed – and Robin uses the time to smile, laugh, reflect, pause, think, read and write.  He’s reading Pulitzer Prize winner Kay Ryan’s new collection ‘Erratic Facts’ and he sent me something I wanted to share with you.

Fool’s Errands:

A thing
cannot be
enough times:
this is the
rule of dogs
for whom there
are no fool’s
errands. To
loop out and
come back is
good all alone.
It’s gravy to
carry a ball
or a bone.

Thank you Kay.  Thank you Robin.

We’re all still carrying the ball.

It’s gravy.