Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Unfiltered – Disrupting Business Education

Unfiltered is a rapidly-growing New Zealand startup focused exclusively on business education. Today I joined its board as chairman. Business education is a sweet spot for me, principally because I believe traditional business schools have not kept pace with the way millennials think and act. No more corporate treadmill for them, they want to be at it straightaway. Entrepreneurs straight out of high school. Learning by doing. Learning from mentors. Dreams into action.

Such is the story of Jake Millar, 21, who co-founded Unfiltered – his second company - with school friend Yuuki Ogino. Unfiltered’s website features more than 110 long-form interviews with entrepreneurs and business leaders, and has aggregated 1.8 million video views since it was formed 17 months ago. Its paid subscription website has successfully attracted 150,000 individual and corporate users, and an enviable list of sponsors that include PwC, Bell Gully, NZTE and the University of Auckland Business School.

Unfiltered has built a reputation for securing interviews with business masterminds following what Jake describes as a “high-trust, strong-relationships model.” Jake’s long-form interview techniques delve into the marrow of business and the challenges, failures, difficulties – and triumphs – each person has faced. Taken as a body of work, the Unfiltered interviews offer up a spectrum of daring ideas, humility and scar tissue, inspiration, and simple ways through the clutter of complexity every business operator faces.

I’ve been teaching, guest lecturing and generally disrupting at business schools all over the world for the past 20 years, and in the time I have with students I attempt to be as impactful as anything else they will experience during their degree programs. And so it is with Unfiltered. The world's mobile and desktop screens are hungry for content which is compelling, uplifting, fascinating, optimistic – and quick. Unfiltered offers the ability to scale this disruption right across the business education landscape.

Joining me on the board is Icebreaker and former Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe. Today’s announcement reveals the governance that will drive Unfiltered’s expansion strategy to the United States to replicate its New Zealand-proven model. The company has just closed a NZ$1.2 million seed funding round.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Assess Decide Execute

I lean heavily on the BQ factor – “Bloody Quick.” In my book 64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World I recount that, classically, a leader does three things: assess, decide, and execute. Short-handed to A.D.E. Typically in a business, leaders spend half their time interrogating the data, checking the facts and assessing. They spend 30 percent on discussion and consensus. The other 20 percent – execution – is a hospital pass to some poor sucker down the line. This is most businesses today: strategically driven, by-the- book, MBA-obsessed, ponderous. I argue for this model to be inverted: 20% assessing, 10% deciding, and 70% focus on execution.

A new 10­ year study from a leadership advisory firm ghSmart and economists from the University of Chicago and Copenhagen Business School, published in this month's Harvard Business Review, and reported by The Washington Post, backs up my intuition and finds that the most successful chief executives often don't fit the typical A.D.E. mold.

The researchers behind the study, called the CEO Genome Project, used a database of comprehensive performance appraisals and extensive biographical information of 17,000 C­suite executives, including 2000 CEOs. The database includes everything from career history to behavioural patterns to how the executives performed in past jobs, decisions they've made and demographic information. Their analysis examined a sample of 930 of those CEOs to come up with the traits and patterns that most predicted which ones became a CEO.

The #1 trait of successful leaders deciding with speed and conviction, even without all the needed information. The reports says “high-performing CEOs they stand out for being more decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction. They do so consistently—even amid ambiguity, with incomplete information, and in unfamiliar domains. In our data, people who were described as “decisive” were 12 times more likely to be high-performing CEOs.”

In 64 Shots I cite Colin Powell’s 40/70 Rule: “Use the formula P+40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.” The Post article references Jeff Bezos’s latest letter to shareholder in which he extols "high ­velocity decision­ making." Echoing Powell, Bezos wrote that "most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70 per cent of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90 per cent, in most cases, you're probably being slow." Being wrong isn't always so bad, he said. "If you're good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure."

Elena Lytkina Botelho, a partner at ghSmart and a co­founder of the project, said the #1 trait was the most surprising. "We frankly expected to find that strong CEOs stood out for the quality of their decisions — that they turn out to be right more frequently," she said. "But what very clearly stood out was the speed. Quality was likely something they developed earlier, but then they're willing to step up and make the decision faster, even with more uncertainty." ­

Other findings from the survey:
  • The highest-IQ executives, those who relish intellectual complexity, sometimes struggle the most with decisiveness. While the quality of their decisions is often good, because of their pursuit of the perfect answer, they can take too long to make choices or set clear priorities—and their teams pay a high price. 
  • High-performing CEOs understand that a wrong decision is often better than no decision at all. As former Greyhound CEO Stephen Gorman, told us, “A bad decision was better than a lack of direction. Most decisions can be undone, but you have to learn to move with the right amount of speed.”
  • Decisive CEOs recognize that they can’t wait for perfect information. To that end, successful CEOs also know when not to decide. But once a path is chosen, high-performing CEOs press ahead without wavering. 
  • And if decisions don’t turn out well? ghSmart’s analysis suggests that while every CEO makes mistakes, most of them are not lethal. “We found that among CEOs who were fired over issues related to decision making, only one-third lost their jobs because they’d made bad calls; the rest were ousted for being indecisive.”
The book of the study, The CEO Next Door: What it Takes to Get to the Top, And Succeed, Based on the World's Most Comprehensive Leadership Study by Elena Botelho, Kim Powell can be ordered from 800-CEO-Read.

Oh, and the other three traits? Read my next post.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

There’s a Brew Going Down at The Lakes

Part of the Cumbrian food and taste experience, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, is The Lakes Distillery. Interestingly, The Lakes District was once part of Scotland - hence a long association with illicit whiskey distilling! Founder of The Lakes Distillery is Paul Currie who co-founded the widely acclaimed, award winning Arran distillery, and a man who has grown up in and amongst the distilling industry.

After years of searching for the perfect venue, Paul came across some derelict farm buildings from the 1850s near Keswick, and in 2010 his dream started to turn into a reality. Against all odds, this Victorian farm has developed into a world class whisky distillery and visitor centre, with over 100,000 people visiting the facilities each year.

The Lakes Distillery now legally produces whiskey, vodka and the Lakes Gin (it’s best appreciated neat) and keeps waste to a minimum: it recycles water and heat and uses only grain, yeast and water in its process.

The goal is to produce a collection of world class spirits, and is on its way having being names by Timeout as “one of the best new distilleries in the world.” When asked in an interview how a new distillery can win the battle against fierce competition, Paul emphasized that there is nothing more important than quality. “The beautiful surroundings gave us a geographical advantage, helped us to build our brand. But the critical value of our business is always to enhance the quality to the best. Our goal is to make spirits that everyone enjoys, and become a leading brand to spirits fans.”

Cheers to that.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Why Are the All Blacks So Good?

I’ve written for NZ Rugby World every month since issue number one, 20 years ago in April 1997 – and I was thumbing through the archives this sunny Saturday morning in Auckland when my copy of the latest, special edition was delivered.

Gregor Paul, editor of the world’s favourite rugby magazine, just published a special edition celebrating 125 years of New Zealand Rugby. He focused on why the All Blacks are so good.

Here in summary are 15 values which help explain the AB’s continuous improvement and sustainable peak performance.

1. Sacrifice
  • Give up things that won’t help you reach the summit.
  • Proves that the goal is worth chasing.
2. Respect
  • The legacy, the team, and the role of every individual.
  • Leave it better than when you found it.
3. Gratitude
  • Pressure is a privilege. Be grateful to have the opportunity to experience it.
4. Acceptance
  • Handle disappointment, man up, and do your job bloody well, whatever it is – for the Team.
5. Speed
  • In the mind. A positive attitude. Fail Fast, Learn Fast, Fix Fast.
6. Trust
  • Believe in yourself, your skills, your game-plan, your systems and your mates.
7. Mental Toughness
  • Learn and practice TCUP.
8. Awareness
  • Uphold the higher standards. All the time.
9. Open Mindedness
  • Flexible thinking, responsive to new ideas, relish change.
10. Accountability
  • Everything can be done better. Use examples of the best players making mistakes. Everyone is accountable for the Team’s performance.
11. Dedication
  • Master basic skills.
  • Meet. Beat. Repeat.
12. Leadership
  • Everyone is a leader.
  • First know thyself.
  • Know what you’re doing, why, when and where.
13. Honesty
  • With yourself and your team.
  • Review performance shortfalls brutally and directly.
14. Core Role
  • Do your own job. Trust your mates to do theirs.
15. Continuous Improvement
  • Wake up the next morning and figure out how to improve.
  • Repeat daily.
Let’s see how these stand up to the latest threat – the British and Irish Lions in eight weeks time. Don’t miss the greatest sporting challenge of 2017.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Lion Has Passed

At 6.30am on a wintry, cold 1989 Toronto morning, two partners of Egon Zehnder knocked on my door. They had been sent by Douglas Myers to find an operator to run the newly merged Lion Nathan NZ conglomerate of beer, soft drinks, supermarkets, hotels, wines and spirits. A few months later I had packed up and left Pepsi Cola Canada to move to the other end of the world to work for the most charismatic, paradoxical, irresistible, revolutionary I would ever meet. A great man. A great New Zealander.

He taught me about daring to dream, about the complexities of people, about driving performance, about winning, and about being a new New Zealander.

I loved him, respected him, admired him, trusted him and was driven by him to Learn, Fail and Fix.

He was caring and demanding in equal parts. He was provocative, brave, controversial, passionate and independent.

A pirate amongst sailors.

He passed today. 78 years young.

A New Zealand Lion.

Sir Douglas Myers. R.I.P.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

I Love Laura

Laura Kimpton is a California-based, American contemporary artist. She is known for her Monumental Word series including installations at Burning Man and now on the rooftop of the James Hotel near my New York home in Tribeca. “LOVE” is right in my wheelhouse. Other words in the series include “BELIEVE”, “LIVE”, “MAGIC” and “DREAM.” Kimpton reportedly liked the juxtaposition of LOVE seen together with the Freedom Tower in an outside location and has said that she sees herself as the messenger of love in a time when there is so much hate in the world. Her website states that “her creativity stems from a desire to question traditional views on social interaction, therefore invoking through her art a reaction from her viewers that ultimately completes her projects. She is continually exploring new mediums in her search for revelatory communication.”

Two more connections I like about Kimpton’s installations. First comes from LA-based New Zealand art critic and journalist Lita Barrie in a Huffington Post essay on the ‘LOVE’ installation at Las Vegas’s Venetian Hotel:

“Hotel art” has a pejorative reputation in the serious art world, considered facile, derivative, and inoffensive decoration bought through commercial art consultants and hyped by PR agencies who are unfamiliar with art history or the aesthetic or philosophic significance of real art collected and curated by scholars for top tier museums and art collectors. But a few hotels have managed to transition beyond this line and acquire serious art to share it with the public.

“Kimpton is fascinating because, as an outsider artist, she refuses to be put in a box or to pander to commercial galleries, or what she calls “an art world run by left-brain people, running a right-brain world.” Her use of sparrows in LOVE came from living in Siena, where sparrows flock in great numbers, and this led to her realization that “you are free to love anything you want  especially yourself.” The word “love” takes on multiple meanings through Kimpton’s use of the cut-out birds, so that “love” is not restricted to just monogamous romantic love, but represents a flight of fantasy into a more universal feeling. Like Alice she riddles the meanings of words, on the “other side” of left brain logic. Although I was apprehensive about viewing “hotel art,” I came away from this experience uplifted. After talking with Kimpton in-depth, I had no doubt that she is an authentic artist.”

And here is the third connection, hotels, of which I know more than a bit as a global resident and consultant:

“Kimpton’s journey began as an insider within the hospitality industry as the daughter of a hotelier, Bill Kimpton, who made his name refurbishing run-down buildings in urban areas and collaborating with innovative chefs like Wolfgang Puck to create exciting hotel restaurants. While Kimpton understands this industry implicitly, thanks to her innovative father, she also comes from a strong art and psychology background, having earned both a BFA from San Francisco Art Institute and an MA in Counseling Psychology from the University of San Francisco. Kimpton has worked on the periphery, yet she has also been accepted by the art establishment that collects her work.”

Laura Kimpton’s work is being shown by HG Contemporary on West 23rd Street, New York, starting on May 4th, 2017.

Two thumbs up.

Photo by Peter Ruprecht

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

CricHQ Shortlisted for UK Sports Tech Award

CricHQ is the world’s leading data company, with the goal of becoming the world’s leading cricket broadcaster. They have been shortlisted as Best-Integrated Digital Media at the world’s leading sports technology awards, to be announced in London in early May. Over 70 sports from 30 countries were represented from 30 countries.

I took on the role of Chair of CricHQ at the end of 2016, working with founder/CEO Simon Baker and the team to scale the company within the framework of the world’s second largest sport (football being #1). CricHQ currently scores one in every 10 balls played at all levels of organized cricket around the world, including 54 out of 106 national governing bodies, 350 associations, and thousands of leagues, tournaments, clubs and schools.

CricHQ is an exemplar of New Zealand companies winning the world from the edge. Founded and headquartered in Wellington, CricHQ has operations in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States. In February it announced the acquisition of My Action Replay, a Bristol UK company that has perfected low-cost video capture of cricket matches at a very local level – school and club – meaning you can select you son or daughter’s fours and wickets at the press of a mouse.

Cricket is an engrossing, vibrantly exciting game, with enough pauses for reflection on the meaning of life. Until CricHQ, the game was decidedly analog, recorded on paper and consigned to filing boxes. CricHQ’s data and video tools are building a new world for players, fans, parents, administrators, coaches – and importantly, talent spotters. Take India, the world’s second most populated country where cricket is the national passion – spotting talent in all its corners will become possible with CricHQ when it is embraced throughout the country. CricHQ is becoming the lifetime home for players in a statistically-driven game.

See video interview here about my dreams for CricHQ.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Making Happy Choices

Am in Porto, the great river city of Portugal, with two great companies – Sonae, speaking to their 100 top leaders, and Sogrape, the country's leading winemaker, working with their marketing teams on four creative projects.

We’re staying on the River Douro at the Pestana Palacio do Freixo, built in the 18th century by the famous architect Nasoni – beautiful.

A couple of thoughts from our sessions by Rui Patriarca, Sogrape Marketing Director.

You only live once? (YOLO)


You live every day.

You only die once.

Even when happiness forgets about you sometimes, do not forget about happiness.

Making Happy Choices.

Thoughts from a country where Destiny is at the core of its spirit.