Saturday, December 23, 2017

An underrated skill – the ability to learn from success and go to the next level

Last month I was in Victoria British Columbia, talking to 50-60 entrepreneurs / freedom fighters from this beautiful Edge community. During a spirited Q&A, a bright young outlaw told me about the F*ckUp session he’d recently attended and asked what I thought about them. I explained my Tom Peters inspired ‘Fail Fast, Learn Fast, Fix Fast’ approach and that I believed the F*ckUp wasn’t the important takeaway; it was the learning and fixing that should be shared.

I also banged on about an underrated skill – the ability to learn from success and go to the next level from there (reference Steve Hansen and the All Blacks, and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City).

Robin Dyke – poet, philosopher and truth seeker was my host in Victoria, and this morning following an energetic early morning winter bike ride, he sent me the following which I thought was great advice to close out 2017 and start 2018 with eyes wide open.

To You of Little Faith (or Too Much), by Robin Dyke

Ah, the words of faith, brought home for me recently at a service I attended at the invitation of a friend (a mentee actually, enacting the subtle role reversal so prevalent in such relationships).

Going in, I had no idea of the extent to which the belief god is angry with us, with me, is so prevalent. That impending sense of doom was half the message, the flip side being god is with us (Immanuel), perfection has arrived to save us. Delivered affirmation was the repetition, all taken in with much enthusiasm, the congregation enraptured, standing and swaying to the musically accompanied message. Who are these people I wondered of the youthful skewed audience, what is the appeal, the quest being answered?

In my thoughts I was reminded of my impressions of a recent F*ckUp session sponsored by our local Tech Association, where the attendees proselytized each other with glee over the confessions of errors and omissions of the f*ckees – now claimed a “world movement”, no less by this type of hype:

Everyone's favourite night. Nothing like watching accomplished, confident people share their still-raw, professional disasters with a crowd of 200+ colleagues who have been drinking beer. Better than crying. Cheaper than therapy.

All in all, a “confident”, the-gods-aren’t angry-with-you tell it all, delivered to beer guzzling gawkers (learners might be a bit more charitable). Now, you might think, I am of too little faith. What is faith – possibly belief in who you are and what you offer. Belief in how you succeed, not how you f*ckup.

You may make it a practice to learn from your mistakes. Whether you do, or not, there are always those quick and willing to tell you how you screwed up and just how badly. Some of it actually useful! Engage with those ones, but why turn it into a staged production!

In the haste to celebrate mistakes (emphasis on others’), might we be missing the more significant opportunity - learning from our success (yes, we learn usefully from other success models, gain inspiration, but this also deflects from time and effort spent on self-understanding). Do you fathom what you did to bring about your last brilliant success or astute decision, or your very first of either for that matter? I’m asking, do you really understand what combination of capabilities you apply to succeed. This takes a lot of thought. Too quickly we bask in our success and the illusion of stability and miss the inherent meaning. Many, like athletes are prone to reply blandly, I was fortunate to score, etc. Of course there is always the possibility it was just plain luck! But this suggests one might want to fully understand the why of it all. Therein is your art.

Mandela has talked about the fear of our own success being the hurdle challenge to our humanness. That’s the fear in the closet, that faced more productively would cloth us in our own radiance. Sure, the fear of failure is important to overcome as a defensive maneuver, and the gambits like F*ckUp sessions can move us on. The danger is in the cult-ness of the confessionals that make us feel better about our deficits without understanding our true and unique capabilities. Perhaps rather than the misplaced apprehension that god is angry with us, our concern is better directed to appease his frustration - over our fear of our own potential. That’s what makes us squirm, or should

So, why not start with a tinniest of successes - understand what went in to it, what did you do, in what sequence, with what application. What did you bring, call on, to pull off what you did. Herein lies the gold of your unique capabilities and awareness of what you have or has potential for further development and dream accomplishment. Note the dream word, its at the heart of all who we really are and are capable of pulling off. Be angry with yourself if that is not your star. Have faith. Make it so! And BQ!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

No Regrets

A personal life philosophy in my more seasoned days is to focus on making happy choices.

It follows naturally from a core piece of counsel I have always given young people, which is to make the big decisions with your heart, the little ones with your head. You might call it the 'joy maximization framework,' given how the man who made Amazon looks at it.

Jeff Bezos shares a smart approach. In the zone of what I would call ‘making happy choices’ is what Jeff calls a 'regret minimisation framework.' In a 1999 interview in which he spoke about his decision to leave his well-paid Wall Street job to start Amazon, he said he wanted to live his life in a way that minimized the number of regrets he would hold when he’s older.

Not doing something because of fear of regret or failure is kind of ironic considering that it’s the things we haven’t done that we usually regret. Overthinking, and worrying, just uses up your bandwidth for happiness and getting ahead in life quicker. Stop thinking, start doing, and make stuff happen. Take a chance, run some risks. Be excessive in a good way. Be active, and when you try and fail as all do, fail fast, learn fast and fix fast.

In 2018, make happy choices, the ones that feel right in the core of your gut, true at the time in your heart. They are the ones that you will always smile about.

Happy New Year.


Video: The Voice Kids 2017, Édith Piaf's Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, by Sofie

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

5 Positives

Another list.

1. Attraction:
New York tops the list of the most Instagrammed cities of 2017. There’s still no place quite as magnetic as the Big Apple, where the princess holds her beacon of freedom and liberty aloft, and.

2. Fun: Amidst Time’s 10 buzziest moments was the ultimate rib tickler BBC dad. Some people care about expert analysis on the impeachment of a president. Everybody cares when the expert’s four-year old and eight-month old photobomb Dad on live television, with Mom in hot pursuit as the interview rolls on.

3. Inspiration:
The year’s second most-shared tweet and most liked tweet ever came from global Inspirer-in-Chief Barack Obama, projecting Mandela after the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…" (What does it say about the world when the #1 most shared tweet – 3.6 million retweets – was Nugget Boy Carter Wilkinson begging Wendy's for free chicken nuggets for a year).

4. Momentum: Business is the engine of progress, and its role is to make the world a better place for everyone. So hats off to New Zealand, a home to me, which is ranked the world’s easiest place to start a business, again. Number of procedures required: one. Shortest time to fulfill them: half a day.

5. Joy (and Love):
Topping Apple’s top ten emojis used by English speakers in the US is the 'tears of joy' face, followed by the red heart.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

52 The Deck of Cards

Here’s some numbers for the Season. I heard this narrated by Wink Martindale, U.S. DJ and radio show host (now 84) some 50 plus years ago. Set during World War II, where a group of U.S. Army soldiers, on a long hike during a campaign in southern Italy, arrive and camp near the town of Cassino. While scripture is being read in church, one man who has only a deck of playing cards pulls them out and spreads them in front of him.

He is immediately spotted by a sergeant, who believes the soldier is playing cards in church and orders him to put them away. The soldier is then arrested and taken before the provost marshal to be judged. The provost marshal demands an explanation and the soldier says that he had been on a long march, without a bible or a prayer book. He then explains the significance of each card:

Ace: the one true God.

Deuce: the Old Testament and New Testament in the Bible.

Trey (three): the Holy Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit/Ghost.

Four: St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, evangelists and authors of the four Gospels.

Five: the two groups of five virgins who trimmed their lamps for a wedding. Five were wise (by saving enough oil) and were admitted, while the other five were foolish (did not have enough oil) and were shut out.

Six: the number of days taken by God to create the Earth.

Seven: the day on which God rested, now known as the Sabbath.

Eight: the eight righteous people whom God saved during the Great Flood: Noah, his wife, their three sons, and their wives.

Nine: the nine out of ten lepers cleansed by Jesus who did not thank him.

Ten: the Ten Commandments God handed down to Moses.

King: God, the Father.

Queen: the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Queen of Heaven.

Jack or knave: Satan or the Devil.

365 spots: the number of days in a year.

52 cards: the number of weeks in a year.

Thirteen tricks: the number of weeks in a season, or quarter of a year.

Four suits: the approximate number of weeks in a month.

Twelve face, or "Picture" cards: the number of months in a year.

He then ends his story by saying that "my pack of cards serves me as a Bible, an almanac, and a prayer book." Wink then closes the story by stating that "this story is true," claiming he is the soldier in question. The text does not say whether the provost marshal spared the soldier any penalty, but it is possible to infer from the text that he did. And he should have.

See Wink's original film recording of Deck of Cards from 1959, a 2012 version from Wink, and, er, the karaoke version .

Merry Christmas Wink.

47 Friends

In the introduction to 64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World, I riffed on the meaning of 64. Year of famous songs and impassioned speeches. Call sign for New Zealand. 8x8. Numeracy has a lot to offer, on a level or two above tarot cards, clues to pattern recognition and serendipitous connections. There is a Wikipedia page for every number.

I stumbled across a Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma Country, California called 47 Friends. Here’s their rap:

“Students arrive at college – laden with poetry, philosophy, mathematical proofs, chemical formulae, and a thirst for knowledge – and leave with all of this enhanced and knit-together in a beautiful body of knowledge. Longer-lasting than any of the bits of knowledge and insight gained, however, are the relationships developed. That was my experience.

“These are my original 47 Friends. They can tell stories: late nights when a corn puppet made an appearance, helping me survive organic chemistry, kayaking a pristine lake in northern Idaho, re-building a house on the Oregon coast, swimming in the lazy Russian River, playing bocce on the Sonoma coast, and cooking and eating countless meals and drinking countless glasses of wine together. This fellowship – knit together by enjoyment of food and wine – is deeply satisfying. 47 Friends wines was born.

“I wanted to make a wine that I – and all of my 47 Friends – could afford to enjoy regularly. Oh, we loved to savor a $60 Cab, but what about a wine that we could drink every night – without playing roulette with our local supermarket’s “value wines”…some decent and some terrible? So I made a blend of Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Syrah, bottled it, and brought it with me to the Sonoma coast to see what my friends thought. They all loved it – and asked how they could get some.

“We all can have 47 friends. These circles of friends can be made, and added to, generously. You can find them at work, school, the tennis court, a local wine bar, the co-op grocery, online…anywhere you go with an open spirit. To knit them into your life, nothing works like the sharing of food and drink. The 47 Friends wines were made for just this purpose.”

Anyways, here is their proof of the significance of 47. Fact-checking is an interesting exercise after a few glasses of their product, but here goes for an interesting trip through math, politics, engineering, history and urban myth:
  • The Declaration of Independence has 47 sentences
  • The tropics of Cancer and Capricorn are located 47 degrees apart.
  • There have been 47 reported sightings of Bigfoot in Siskiyou County
  • The length to width ratio of the Golden Gate Bridge is 47:1
  • Caesar made his famous proclamation, “Veni, vidi, vici” in 47 B.C.
  • The road running through the Joshua Tree National Monument is 47 miles long.
  •  It takes 47 divisions of one cell to produce the number of cells in the human body.
  • Sir Francis Drake returned from his circumnavigation of the world with enough stolen Spanish treasure to repay his backers their investment 47 times over.
  • Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa was killed by a barrage of 47 bullets.
  • The sun moves a total of 47 degrees from south to north across the Earth’s sky between winter and summer solstice.
  • The Pythagorean Theorem is Proposition 47 of Euclid’s Elements.
  • In the song “Macarena,” the refrain is repeated 47 times.
  • 47 is a strictly non-palindromic number.
  • 47 bones of the “Lucy” skeleton were unearthed in 1974.
  • There are 47 occurrences of 47 in the first thousand prime numbers.
  • Tyrannosaurus Rex measured 47 feet in overall length.
  •  Professional football teams are limited to 47 players.
64-47=17. 17, well that’s an interesting number. And so here’s to 47 of my friends. Especially the old one...Robin - who has an important 7 in his age locker.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Making food people love

General Mills is an iconic American company that makes food loved by people throughout the nation - Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Yoplait, Pillsbury, Old El Paso, Häagen-Dazs, and Lucky Charms. They were a major Saatchi & Saatchi client for many years, in fact their relationship with agencies that became part of the Saatchi group went back to the company’s founding in 1928.

We introduced Lovemarks to General Mills back in the early 2000s, and while there wasn’t a wholesale embrace of the idea, the thinking certainly permeated the work that our creatives produced.

So it’s nice to see that General Mills is adding a little “love” to its logo with the launch of a new symbol to adorn its products. The new logo features the company’s familiar cursive “G” with a red heart along with the words “General Mills: Making Food People Love.”

“With our newest logo, the familiar ‘Big G’ continues to exemplify strength, longevity and trust — and now love,” the company said.

It’s also a nice way for chairman Ken Powell to bow out of the company. Ken was CEO of General Mills since 2007 until earlier this year, and we had a constructive and respectful relationship.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

64 Shots: “Nuggets of wisdom and inspiration”

It’s list time of the year, and it’s nice to be at the top of one. Matt Devost is a technologist, entrepreneur, and international security expert specializing in cybersecurity, counterterrorism, critical infrastructure protection, intelligence, and risk management issues. 

Matt has just done his 2017 book wrap-up. Here’s pretty much what he wrote, lightly truncated.

“In looking at advances in technology over the past year, I’m reminded of the Lenin quote “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

“It seems that to make the most sense of the top security and business trends you need to have a keen eye for advancements in AI, virtual currencies, and other technologies. That perspective has influenced my Top 10 books for 2017. Another influence was my desire to study past innovations and innovators. I found myself too focused on the innovators of my era, and while they are certainly important, I wondered what value might be derived from studying innovators of the near-past.

64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World by Kevin Roberts. My favorite book of the year. It is filled with so many nuggets of wisdom and inspiration that it was also my most highlighted book of the year. Thus far, I’ve gifted over 25 copies to friends and colleagues and have received great feedback from the recipients as well. I’m a firm believer that the right book finds you at the right time and I’m grateful that this book found me.

Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money
by Nathaniel Popper. My best performing asset of 2017 was Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s history is only just being written, but this book provides an accessible look at the story thus far.

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes by Richard Clarke. An essential look at those analysts and researchers who provided advanced warning of significant global events and the societal, organizational, and leadership barriers the prevented them from being heard. It concludes with some thoughts on how we can identify and act on future warnings and discern realistic predictions from sensational doomsayers.

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter by David Sax. A fascinating exploration of tension between digital and analogue.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant
Provides several case studies of how mavericks persisted and persuaded in large organizations.

You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future
by Jonathon Keats. An eclectic inventor of many technologies that were deemed to be the realm of science fiction at the time, his persistent vision of the future is a worthy exploration for those looking to understand our future now.

The Man Who Designed the Future by B. Alexandra Szerlip. As much a look at the emergence of culture as it is a look at innovation.

The Field Researcher’s Handbook: A Guide to the Art and Science of Professional Fieldwork
by David Danelo. David J. Danelo reminds us that all we know about the world shouldn’t be observed via a computer monitor. As Le Carre once penned, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world.”

Void Star by Zachary Mason. A failed medical trial results in a handful of patients with malfunctioning neurological implants. One of them develops a capability to interface and negotiate with rogue or malfunctioning cooperate AI systems.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz. Dealing with issues of biohacking, artificial intelligence, and robotics it uniquely weaves a story largely told from the perspective of autonomous and indentured bots.

Great list. I'm off to Amazon. Thanks Matt.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Shopping List

What goes on in newsrooms these days? There is serious journalism – The Washington Post and The New York Times are recording record readerships and subscribers – and there is the rest. The most visited news website in the world is The Daily Mail (a personal favorite…great editor, maybe the world’s best, and a great owner, certainly the world’s best) – British in its origins but universal in its appeal to human prurience, with a taste, amidst its serious scoops – for pimple popping videos, people acting badly, cute animal photo essays, and just-escaped-a-traffic-death story. Some media offers surprisingly useful stuff. Business Insider, the Buzzfeed for adults, with which I have a tested relationship, comes up with the most interestingly tangential article ideas. What supplements do they take with their morning Kombuchas? Today was a headline 32 things we need but always forget to buy. This appealed on three levels.

First, I have a lifelong professional interest in stuff that sells in supermarkets.

Second, the blurring line between editorial and advertising – all 32 items listed link to an page, founded by Business Insider investor Jeff Bezos.

And third, a 1992 memory: when President George H.W. Bush travelled the country in search of re-election, he ventured into a supermarket ahead of making a speech to the American Grocers Association. He shopped for a quart of milk, a light bulk and a bag and candy, and ran them over an electronic scanner (picture above). The New York Times reported that “The look of wonder flickered across his face again as he saw the item and price registered on the cash register screen. “This is for checking out?" asked Mr. Bush. "I just took a tour through the exhibits here," he told the grocers later. "Amazed by some of the technology."” The fact that grocery stores began using electronic scanners as early as 1976, and that the devices have been in general use in American supermarkets for a decade, had evaded the cloistered-in-The Beltway President Bush.

Business Insider records that “For whatever reason — an appreciation of suspense, a distaste for routine, or an unwillingness to part with more money than we absolutely need to — an overwhelming amount of us don’t buy the things we habitually need in advance.” Here’s the list (and I love a list):

Laundry detergent
Paper towels
Toilet paper
Can and bottle openers
Light bulbs
Cotton balls and pads
Dish soap
Shampoo and conditioner
Trash bags
Clorox wipes
Pet food
Bobby pins
Hand soap
Shaving cream
Olive oil
Nail polish remover

And who doesn’t have Lovemarks in all these seemingly mundane categories?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

AT Kearney Weighs in on 2018

My friends at AT Kearney have called their VUCA world shots on 2018.

“In today’s increasingly volatile world, it is difficult to speculate about what might happen next week; predicting the course of events over the next year is even more challenging. Shifting attitudes and heightened tensions in society, rising populism and nationalism in politics, and rapid technological change are all contributing to significant uncertainty in the external environment. There are, therefore, some domains for which we cannot make predictions for the year ahead with a reasonable degree of certainty. Despite this mounting volatility and complexity, there is a compelling case for the ongoing need to scan for future developments. It is with this argument in mind that we issue this annual set of predictions, which we hope will contribute to active debate on the various forces of change at work and the consequences they imply.

“In that spirit, the Global Business Policy Council makes 10 specific predictions for 2018, all of which will have important implications for the global business environment."

1. Quantum supremacy will be achieved. (KR note: if you are any doubts about the supremacy of quantum computing, read the new novel by The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, The Quantum Spy).

2. Difficult negotiations will raise the risk of a hard Brexit in early 2019 (KR note: the binary choice of In/Out was one of the dumbest electoral decisions in history; to decide this the electorate should have been presented with a series of multiple choice questions).

3. Facial recognition technology will become omnipresent. (KR note: I rely on Head & Shoulders despite having a sparse cranium; how will it figure in the scanner?)

4. The threat from the Islamic State will metastasize in Southeast Asia, Africa, and beyond. (KR note: radical optimism is the only route).

5. Domestic politics in Germany and France will cut short the “Merkron” honeymoon phase. (KR note: despite France’s anxiety about its who/what/why, it did put on a gracious show for the funerals of cultural icons who died within a day of each other this week, author Jean d’Ormesson and Johnny Hallyday. Said the FT, “Johnny Hallyday’s death, a day after d’Ormesson’s, comes at a time when French society is a bit disorientated. France has a hard time projecting itself and is in search of meaning. Both men were cultural compasses. There’s a widespread feeling of loss.” As for Germany, get your s*** together. New Zealand formed a coalition in 19 days. Germany is heading into 100 days without resolution.

6. Catastrophic natural disasters will put even more pressure on global insurance markets. (Give to Puerto Rico).

7. New regulations will emerge as scrutiny of the US Internet giants’ power and autonomy reaches a fever pitch. (KR note: beware weapons of mass distraction).

8. Rapidly rising demand for electric vehicles will spark a spike in global sales. (KR note: Um, I have a Maserati, a Jaguar and a Land Rover in different garages in the world; driver’s cars).

9. Chinese foreign investment will accelerate but will face growing resistance. (KR note: I gave a speech in Shanghai in 1998 titled “Brand China;” worth a re-read).

10. Breakthroughs in cancer treatments will accelerate at an unprecedented rate.” (KR note: Too late for my first love Barbara. But not too late for others).

My Team

The Financial Times have just published an extensive mumbo-jumbo piece on my team Manchester City, “the ‘Disneyfication’ of football.” It is a tenet of peak performance that in order to win, you have to always be “in contention.”
Amidst the financial analysis of Man City – “decades in the shadows” of ManU, and “noisy neighbors” according to Alex Ferguson – under its owner since 2008, Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and his sprawling City Football Group encompassing the UK. Australia, Japan, Spain and Uruguay, and evaluating takeovers in China, India and Southeast Asia, asserted by the FT’s of being “designed to exert Emirati soft power” - the truth lies in the team’s control of the ball and the ability to break through the defenses.
Man City’s unbeaten run - now 11 points clear in the Premier League - under Pep Guardiola is attributed to it ability to string together passes better than any other side in Europe, using possession to good effect: they reach the attacking third of the pitch more often than almost anyone else.” In the sequences of 20+ consecutive passes per game, Man City is without peer in 2017.

Lesson: “Always be in contention.”

Friday, December 8, 2017

Flashback Friday: Desert Island Discs: My All Time Top Ten Tunes

DECEMBER 6, 2007

Thanks to Steve Jobs, we no longer have to concern ourselves with taking 10 songs to our desert island. Now, if we feel like it, we can take 10,000. But don’t panic, here are my all-time Top 10 best songs.

10. No Surrender
The Boss plays this fast, he plays it slow, and no matter what the tempo, it still rings true. “I learned more from a 3-minute record than I ever learned in school.” There is also a great line along the lines of “these romantic dreams in our heads”. I love the 'No Surrender' attitude. It’s not too far away from Saatchi & Saatchi’s 'Nothing is Impossible'. This will always be a Top 10 song for me.

9. You Still Believe in Me
From the great Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds album. I’ve seen Brian Wilson at the Roxy in LA and my son, Ben, and a couple of his mates went to see him last month in London. There he was belting out songs from the Pet Sounds album and a medley of Beach Boys greats. Wilson has lived the hard life of an artist, but there is no doubt that some of his writing and arranging will last forever. 'You Still Believe in Me' is a beautiful little song and always reminds me of the many people that have believed in me during my ups and downs.

8. Celluloid Heroes
A song by one of the world’s greatest storytellers, Ray Davies. The front man for The Kinks is still going strong with a new album currently out, but his heyday was in the 60’s and early 70’s. That was when he captured that very English spirit of Bulldogs and Union Jacks in a way no one else ever did. Ray Davies wrote some of the great songs of that era, including 'Well Respected Man', and 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion', which were sound bites for the Carnaby Street of 1967. 'Celluloid Heroes' broke into my consciousness before I had ever been to the US; it made me want to visit Hollywood right there and then. “Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star.” You could put me down for dreamer.

7. A Whiter Shade of Pale
At the Oscars a few years back, I was at an after party and bumped into the lead singer of Procol Harum. 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' must be one of the most loved and most difficult to understand set of lyrics the world has ever been given. It’s one of the defining songs of the 60’s and recently has been the subject of a bitter lawsuit between two of the members of Procol Harum. Almost everybody from that generation can sing the first verse, particularly late in the evening after a couple of bottle of Bordeaux with a bunch of mates. And I can still skip the light fandango.

6. Fairytale of New York
'Fairytale of New York' starred The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. She was tragically killed in a water ski/swimming accident but was a terrific talent. From Croydon to Cuba: An Anthology is a must own. The video showing McColl singing with The Pogues is an experience second to none. Living in New York as I do, this song represents a fairytale story for all the immigrants who hitched up and made their homes in this most vibrant of cities.

5. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
How do you represent Bob Dylan in a Top 10 list? My mate, Brian Sweeney, swears by 'Joker Man'. For me, I’ve always loved 'Forever Young', 'Mr. Tambourine Man', 'The Times They Are A Changing', 'Positively 4th Street', 'Desolation Row', 'Tangled Up in Blue' and so many others. One of the great Dylan stories is 'Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts'. I must have half a dozen versions of this on my iPod, ranging from Joan Baez to Tom Russell, with the crème de la crème being an impromptu jam version by Mary Lee’s Corvette. But this is more than a great song, it’s also a movie. Russell Crowe as the Jack of Hearts (now that he’s earned his chops in 3:10 to Yuma, we’ll let him play the good guy), Uma Thurman as Lily, Nicole Kidman as Rosemary, and Al Pacino as Big Jim (personality, not size). There are 17 verses and I’m still waiting for the sequel.

4. Bird on the Wire
Leonard Cohen was instrumental in shaping my youth. It was very fashionable back then at Bohemian dinner parties (and if that isn’t an oxymoron, what is?) to play Leonard’s first 3 albums. I went to see him countless times, bought all his poetry and sucked up his artistic suffering. When I die, I’ve instructed for the words “I have tried in my way to be free” to be inscribed on my tombstone. It comes from perhaps Leonard’s magnum opus 'Bird on the Wire'.

3. In Spite of Ourselves
Time for a love song - but a fresh, realistic, humorous love song. Try John Prine’s 'In Spite of Ourselves'. He wrote a whole album about relationships and duetted with many top female singers. It’s also the subject of a great music video concert he gave at West 54th Street, and you’ve just got to listen to the words of this song. If it doesn’t have you grinning, you’re just not country. And, as a bonus, the wonderful Iris DeMent joins in.

2. The Road Goes On Forever
If you’ve ever been to hear Robert Earl Keen live, you’ll know that everyone there knows all the words to all the songs. The one they really belt out, their Shiner Bocks in hand, is 'The Road Goes On Forever'. It is a classic romance song that should also be made into a movie. It is the story of Sunny, his girl, chivalry, loyalty, impetuosity and pragmatic reality. A great tale, a great idea, and alone is worth a trip to hear Robert Earl Keen. "The road goes on forever and the party never ends."

1. Thunder Road
At number one, leaving off where we came in, is another song from Bruce - 'Thunder Road'. He sings it at different tempos and at different times, and I’ve probably got 20-25 versions of it. I never tire of 'Thunder Road'. It fills me with energy and enthusiasm for the day ahead.

Let me have your Top 10.

The Crazy Idea Process

Physicist Isador Isaac Rabi, who won the Nobel Prize is said to have said:

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference— asking good questions— made me become a scientist!’’

Asking good questions is one part of the creative process at Google X (Alphabet’s moon shot factory, which searches for the next big idea).

X’s creative process was recently traversed in a probing article in the November edition of The Atlantic: Google X and the Science of Radical Creativity.

The long and the short of X’s approach as explored by The Atlantic:
  • Address a huge problem, suggest a radical solution, take a feasible path
  • Start with the right questions, not with brainstorming smart answers
  • Invest in both invention and innovation (an innovation is an invention made commercial) i.e. develop an end-to-end process of question / create / discover / produce 
  • Evaluate ideas rapidly (panels of creators who are also judges). Eliminate if the right balance of audacity and achievability is not there – and have failure bonuses for people who shut down weak projects! 
  • Build a culture with ‘psychological safety,’ celebrating high-risk experimentation, rewarding fast failure, and sharing stories of success / failure. 
X exists to ‘solve huge problems and to build the next Google.’ The fruits of X are still to be seen and The Atlantic questions the value of moon shots versus “the modest innovations that typically produce the most-valuable products.”

I look at it this way: innovation flows from creativity (visa-versa to a much lesser degree), and the best way to get a big idea is to have lots of small ideas and to fail fast, learn fast, fix fast. The crazies with the crazy ideas will create the greatest leaps, and organisations like X with the ambition and pockets to go from 0 to 100 are to be roared on. Go X.   

(As an aside, when I was at Saatchi & Saatchi we acquired a shopper marketing company called Thompson Murray in Northwest Arkansas to service our consumer packaged goods clients. We were agreed that the company was to be rebranded to become part of the Saatchi & Saatchi family. But what to call it? I remember arriving at the airport in Bentonville, and when collecting my bag I saw the airport identifier on the carousel. XNA. The company became Saatchi & Saatchi X. From the latest look, they continue to do cutting edge work in the shopper marketing space.)

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Power of Music

I love music. Music can offer an escape, can drum up memories from the past and can be a great inspiration. It’s the soundtrack of our lives. There’s just something really special about it that almost everyone can relate to. That said there’s one setting where music divides people – the office.

Listening to music while you work can be the best or the worst – depending on whom you ask. In an office there’s always at least one person who can’t stand working while music is playing in the background. That can be a problem – especially in the world of open-plan offices. Pondering that problem I looked at some studies related to music and productivity.

Behavioral scientists and management experts have found that listening to music at work can increase productivity. And that’s not all. It also has been proven to improve workplace cultures and upbeat music can increase co-operation between team members. Project management expert Colin Ellis makes an interesting point. Apparently even people who are against music in the workplace, “get in the swing of it” after three weeks or so. Another positive - upbeat music can increase co-operation between team members. The positive effects music can have on people working are vast. Yet I would guess that most offices are not playing music.

One of the most common counter arguments is the claim that people can’t concentrate when music is playing in the background. Whether or not that’s true might differ from person to person, but studies suggest that people are in fact capable of concentrating with background music as we still focus on the most valuable information when we multitask. I agree. (Am listening to Colter Wall's new album as I write this).

In an article in The Harvard Business Review best-selling author and Associate Professor of Leadership and Innovation at Oral Roberts University David Burkus, writes about the fact that many people can’t concentrate when it’s too silent either. It’s why many people prefer working in coffee shops or shared work spaces. It’s all about the right level of background noise.

The solution many people come up with is to wear headphones in the office – either to listen to music, others to drown out the noise of others working around them. But that creates another set of problems as headphones can be a barrier to collaboration. Agreed.

I’m a believer in the power of music. I think that music can actually make you more creative. The solution for the office lies in the set-up of workspaces. There needs to be a space people can access if they want to work in silence and maybe even more importantly without interruption.

The image is one of the most famous advertising visuals from the 1970s - Maxell's Chair Man - see a great backgrounder here.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Manchester Masterclass

Manchester is Britain's great second city. It is to London what Chicago is to New York. It's home of my team Manchester City, and site of a great university, Manchester Met - just crowned the coolest  university in the UK by Liberty Living. I've loved teaching at UK universities - Lancaster, Cambridge and Oxford, and now Manchester Met. They have a terrific Masters of Sport Directorship (MSD) program, I'm there next week on December 6 giving a masterclass "Leadership Challenges in a VUCA World," and back on March 7, 2018 for the Sports Directors Conference. Check out the promo video above and here for a reprise of my 2015 visit. @mmu_business