Our Future and How to Shape It.
Why are we really here today?
Apart – of course – from being well entertained and meeting some great people… as if that in itself wasn’t enough…
Well, I think it’s all about our doing better than that – it’s about your leaving here today wanting to win again, wanting to enjoy it and thinking you may have acquired some equipment that helps you do just that.
“The end is not nigh” not yet…although it has felt pretty horrible for most of us here over the past year or so.
It’s been hard to keep our sang-froid when it gets this hot and sticky.
Nor are we just experiencing ordinary change – the world is currently undergoing events as seismic as the Industrial Revolution was in the 18th and 19th century…
We are creating history here today…by being here and daring to talk about it.
It’s a revolution because it’s happening very fast and no one is in control…it’s about the collision of past and future and a reshaping of the world…and all our lives.
Everything is veering in different directions.
To the East – irremediably.
To the new.
To what we haven’t yet learned.
To the smart rather than the clever.
To the most energetic.
To the most adaptable and flexible.
And we are all running out of money, ideas, space, certainty and excuses….especially governments.
Especially Western Governments.
So – for the rest of us – this is really all about starting over again.
Every word that is currently relevant starts with “de” – depression, deception, decrease, decimation, demolition and – here in the West – a nasty sense of decadence.
But don’t (here’s another “de” word) “despair” because there are a few keys to survival:
- We have to get into and retain the right mindset – it’s mind-set rather than skill-sets that will see us through all this.
- We need to be proud of and champions of what each of us is good at especially things like Art, Music, Literature, Culture, Film, Advertising, Theatre, Museums, Sport, New Virtual Games, the sheer power of Inventing in Sciences, Medicine and the rest – we punch way above our weight and are global champions in most of these areas.
- So it’s death to whingeing time and whingers – there are too many depressing people to shoot in one go but we really ought to have a try.
- We need to want to work harder and work in great we-want-to-perform-better teams – this is a time for self motivating, watch-out-for-your-partners-in-convoys not a time for lone heroes and pioneers.
- We need to create the best generation of teachers there has ever been – at all levels – this has to be a ruthless mission because a great teacher is worth 100 times an average teacher – in schools, colleges, universities and in companies.
- We need to understand what talent means in each field – it is not clear, for instance, this has been understood in business recently. There is potentially a talent-myth created by the McKinseys of this world – a myth because the brightest are not necessarily the best at their jobs.
- We need to get good stuff done not talk about it or rationalise it – we need doers not shmoozers – we need “attack squads” and “A Teams” – we need activity and pack-shuffling – we need change.
- We need to be creative again – to open new doors – to discover new opportunities – to see different ways of operating and a fresh attitude to quality and long term relationships with customers.
- That means learning how to find better ways of doing things, doing them faster, doing them cheaper and making them better (the wrath of Toyota owners will hang over all our heads unless we make things better, safer, greener.)
- We need to create a new mood of possibility and colour – too much grey data is intruding and confusing not informing us – we need to see the woods and the trees not just the twigs.
- We need to train our guts not just our brains – we need to have the right instincts and attitudes not the right checklists – being consistently true to your principles when the going gets really tough is vital. It’s never been more critical.
We need frameworks of must do’s – those actions and attitudes that give us the best chance of helping us do the only thing that really matters – which is making the very most of what we’ve got – of being a good as we can be – of getting the epitaph we deserve and want.
I’m surrounded by brilliant sportsmen today but sport and the world of work have never been less alike than they are right now.
For a start – unfortunately – in business there’s less money, less sex, less fame and less time off.
Sport continues on its competitive and inspirational skill-based tram lines most of the time immune to the global business typhoons (although try saying this to Portsmouth FC and see what response you get.)
They are different except in one respect – the inspiration, focus and attitude that pervades great sport is what we most need now to cheer us up and lift our spirits.
But the idea of that gold-seeking Olympic endeavour doesn’t quite do it for me.
I want our business teams to focus on incremental and secure steps.
We are climbing mountains here not running races.
But to mix metaphors on this a hugely metaphorical day – it’s time to learn and craft new ways of doing things.
Learning how to create the future by learning a new piece of street-smartness – how to survive by getting great at ducking and diving, getting used to the sound of economic gunfire and getting to love being alive again.
It’s surely not too much to ask….is it?
Let’s look at this scale-of-change thing first.
When you’re in a Jumbo Jet flying at 650mph, 38,000 feet up you don’t get any sensation of speed yet we are that Jumbo and everything’s going blindingly fast.
When Riddersdale and Nordstrom wrote Funky Business a decade ago they said:-
“it’s different so forget what you knew yesterday”
And we thought “crazy guys”
Kevin Roberts who runs Saatchi and Saatchi Worldwide said something similar rather more recently:-
“For the first time the consumer is boss which is fascinatingly frightening, scary and terrifying because everything we used to do, everything we used to know will no longer work.”
But as that consumer I don’t feel as though I’m in charge.
Change and the speed of change seem to have prised my hands off the steering wheel.
And when I look a bit harder I realise that this machine has no-one’s hands on that steering wheel, that there is no radar system, that the accelerator has been selected byToyotaand that it’s very foggy.
There’s this sense that we are running out of road.
And that’s not all we’re running out of…
We’re running out of space – there’s a massive population growth – in India 50% of the population is under 25 – and urbanisation has grown from 5% of global population to 50% in the last century.
The world is a crowded, smelly place.
We’re running out of time …do you know (and this statistic comes from the States and I always worry about un-sourced statistics in common with 62% of the population) in the 1960s the average Dad talked to his average kid for 45 minutes a day or 5½ hours a week; today it’s 6 minutes a day or less than ¾ an hour a week – and that’s terrifying.
We’re running out of money…apart from a few with old fashioned bonuses – we’ll return to them shortly
We’re running out of management diversity – and here’s a statistic that really, really frightens me – 100,000 new MBAs are unloosed on us every year. By 2015 it feels like everyone will have an MBA…I exaggerate obviously…
And this lack-of-diversity issue scares me to hell.
Recently I was on a panel selecting a very senior executive– I’d been there watching as we, like moths to the flame, were drawn to CVs which showed the preferred candidates had done a similar job before, were a safe pair of hands, were dullish, were absolutely everything the Funky Business guys don’t want – were “Mr. Yesterdays” (yes, generally Mr and, do you know, it’s the women on our panel who were the most un-persuaded by female candidates.)
This is a talent issue.
The “talent” word has been worrying me ever since I heard the “we must pay the bonuses or we’ll lose the talent” argument.
Because wasn’t this precisely the talent that had, with mathematical genius, steered us into the iceberg?
And then I found a book by Malcolm Gladwell called “What the Dog Saw”- a collection of his essays from the New Yorker Magazine.
And there’s one in it called “The Talent Myth. Are Smart People Over-rated?”
It’s about that blinding revelation that McKinsey and others had about “talent” in the 1980s. They had
“a deep seated belief that having better talent at all levels is how you outperform your competitors”
This led to a seminal book – “The War for Talent” which alone has created the new orthodoxy of American Management.
Quotes inspired by this mind-set abound:-
“we hire very smart people and pay them more than they think they are worth”
That’s from Richard Foster’s presciently titled book “Creative Destruction”.
This comes from a guy at General Electric:-
“don’t be afraid to promote stars without specifically relevant experience, seemingly over their heads”
Gladwell tells us about one particular company that bought “The War for Talent” mythology hook, line and sinker and became the ultimate-talent- company, stocking it with the very best college and MBA graduates they could find.
That company was Enron.
Gladwell observes the absence of correlation between IQ and performance in the workplace and he quotes Richard Wagner, a psychologist atFloridaStateUniversitywho said this:-
“in terms of how you evaluate schooling, everything is about working by yourself. If you work with someone else it’s called cheating.
Once you get out in the real world everything you do involves working with other people.”
The scale of change and the questioning of orthodoxies increase our sense of uncertainty.
Nothing any longer is that simple; the cleverest may be the most erratic; the less bright and more gregarious may be the solution to our problems.
But the fact is nothing is that simple.
Life comprises contradictions – and never more than now.
Jeremy Bullmore – the advertising genius at WPP – gave a speech about antimonies some 18 months ago.
He started by saying he was going to show off:-
“antinomy is quite a long word and an unusual one – and I know what it means and you probably don’t”
And no Jeremy I didn’t.
So Jeremy quoted the economist E F Schumacher (author of “Small is Beautiful” to explain what it is and which I want to read to you because it captures so much of the dilemma of today:
“Top management occupies a very difficult position. It carries responsibility for everything that happens or fails to happen throughout the organisation although it is far removed from the actual scene of events. It can deal with many well-established functions by means of directives rules and regulations. But what about new developments, new creative ideas? What about progress, the entrepreneurial activity par excellence?
All real human problems arise from the antimony of order and freedom. Antimony means a contradiction between two laws; a conflict of authority; opposition between laws or principles that appear to be founded equally in reason.
Excellent (writes Schumacher). This is real life, full of antimonies and bigger than logic. Without order, planning, predictability, central control, accountancy, instructions to the underlings, obedience and discipline – without these nothing fruitful can happen, because everything disintegrates.
And yet – without the magnanimity of disorder, the happy abandon, the entrepreneurship venturing into the unknown and incalculable, without the risk and the gamble, the creative imagination rushing in where bureaucratic angels fear to tread – without this life is a mockery and a disgrace.”
It describes the dilemma but makes me, at any rate, feel loads better because it acknowledges that life really is messy but that life is also wonderful.
What is wrong is to assume that any one solution is right, that there actually is a magic bullet.
Authors like me and many much more eminent want to come up with that master-theory which answers all the questions and explains why we are where we are and how to get to where we want to be.
A bottle of fine claret is more useful any day than such a theory.
We are playing a game of ice hockey played on black ice with no rules and we’d just better make the best of it.
The best advice comes from Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic and someone I’ve always regarded as something of a role model.
“we’ve got to break free from the logic of the past”
He was a philosopher, a brilliant manager and a hypochondriac who lived to the age of 94.
I particularly liked the fact he ran his business from his bed when he wasn’t feeling very well which was quite often.
He had a nice sense of style and proves resting in bed is no bad thing.
After Bullmore, Schumacher and Matsushita I feel a lot better and what I want to reflect on now is that comment I made about mind-set being the key to success and survival.
You can talk yourself or think yourself into doing poorly or into quite simply giving up the ghost.
What we need are just three things – open-mindedness, good humour and a sense of pride.
I have already suggested that negative thinkers and ill humoured fatalists should be ruthlessly removed – my exact words were “shoot them” – but I mean it.
These black holes of humanity will take us all down if we aren’t vigilant.
Open-mindedness first of all.
The Dalai Lama said:-
“our minds are like parachutes – they tend to work better when they are open.”
We all need to be receptive to new things and whilst always quizzically ask questions still be incorrigible enthusiasts.
Wasn’t the launch of the iPad exciting?
Isn’t St. Pancras fabulous? Isn’t 3D great? Isn’t rhubarb terrific? (That pride ofYorkshirethat exploded into the headlines last week as the champagne of fruit/vegetables – whichever it is – suddenly the new uber-food.)
Isn’t every morning a new opportunity to learn something new or to change your mind?
I love John Maynard Keynes riposte to being accused of inconsistency:-
“when circumstances change I change my mind – what do you do?”
Secondly good humour – yes laughter is OK – and some of the best ideas are created amidst gales of fun not in gloom.
Even in crisis we need to see the funny side of things.
Andrew Ross Sorkin in his epic on the banking crisis -“Too Big To Fail” – describes the so called cream of US financial services on that black Sunday prior to the collapse of Lehman’s goofing around and covertly taking the mickey out of Mr. Charisma, Hank Paulsen.
There’s too little laughter around right now.
But last week I saw it a marketing workshop I ran in Brighton.
I’d given four groups a series of projects to do which were quite tough.
One was how to turn Hamlet, starring whoever you wanted in it, into an epic, global, blockbuster box office hit.
This group’s solution to the problem was inspiring.
And I have to say, they started off in a rather negative, closed-minded state – all very can’t-do and uncomfortable – and became transformed, laughing, funny, confident and creative.
Judge for yourself.
Their solution was contained in just four teasing words:-
“3-D or not 3-D?”
I’ve talked about black holes – the people who live in a“well-isn’t-that-just-typical?” frame of mind.
People who think hosting the Olympics is a waste of time.
People who think we spend too much money on the Arts and who cares anyway?
Well I do.
In a speech I made recently on the Arts alongside an eminent group of experts in the field I said – which is true – that Britain doesn’t just punch above its weight in the Arts – we are quite simply number one in the world.
And it gets better.
Why we should be so proud of this success is that perhaps more than anything else, even more than sport, the Arts define our possibilities as human beings.
Here’s what American novelist Michael Chabon, who sits on the Obama Arts Policy Committee, said and, because it’s so good and full of pride, I quote it in full:-
“Our artists are the guardians of the spirit of questioning, of innovation, of reaching across the barriers that fence us from our neighbours, from our allies and adversaries, from the six billion other people with whom we share this dark and dazzling world. Art increases the sense of our common humanity.
The imagination of the artist is, therefore, a profoundly moral imagination: the easier it is to imagine walking in someone else’s shoes, the more difficult it then becomes to do that person harm.
If you want to make a torturer, first kill his imagination. If you want to create a nation that will stand by and allow torture to be practised in its name, then go ahead and kill its imagination too.
You could start by cutting school funding for art, music, creative writing and the performing arts.”
That – I think – is as good as it gets.
Pride…. yes we need a lot more and if we start looking out for what is good, exceptional or exciting and then praising it properly then we and the world will be a better and a happier place.
Best of all, we as individuals, will start to focus on our opportunities rather than problems.
Richard Chase, who organised today, said to me “you write books, you mentor people, you’ve been a CEO, you are a consultant…talk about the stuff people need to hear about …leadership – performance – creativity”…
I heard myself say “yes,” wondering, as I did so, how to give these topics a fresh slant.
Because, if my role model from Panasonic, Mr. Matsushita, was right, anything that’s been written or exists right now is likely to belong to the “logic of the past” and look where that has got us.
Leadership is my first topic.
I worry about the whole leadership thing as depicted in management books.
In a book called “The Peter Principle”, written nearly 40 years ago but which still holds true today the following appears:-
“(Many leaders) simply follow precedents, obey regulations and move at the head of the crowd. Such people lead only in the sense that a carved wooden figurehead leads the ship.”
The bully at the top may be even worse than a token leader….and after last week we all know about bullies.
What we really need is a lot more group dynamic and a lot less of the dictator-leader stuff.
We need people who inspire those around them to produce their best work – people who are great team leaders – actually people who understand how to manage people not just to lead them.
Tom Peters said leaders nurture other leaders (true) and that everyone is all of these three things (surely an overstatement). He says they are:-
But not everyone wants to be a capital “L” leader; some want to led and we’d best know what they expect from leaders.
Professor Chris Bones who heads the Henley Business School cites some longtitudinal research into what employees expect from a leader.
In 1990 it was that they should be hardworking and charismatic
In 2005 it was that they had to have integrity and consistency
Today I’d guess it would be, could be or should be that they need to be inspiring teachers and visionaries
What leadership-people need to be are the following:-
- Team players
- Pastors (worrying about people’s lives as a whole)
- Role models
- Courageous people
- Great delegators
- And unobtrusive…
Hogan, Raskin and Fazzini typified three kinds of leaders in business today in their book “The Dark Side of Charisma”:-
- The High Likeability Floater – who never offends anyone or gets involved in difficult issues – just drifts upwards.
- The Homme de Ressentiment – a plotter, a politician suffering from paranoia who’s always liable to explode in rage.
- The Narcissist – who always takes more credit than is, perhaps, their due. The authors said this:
“Narcissists typically make judgements with greater confidence than other people….and, because their judgements are rendered with such conviction, other people tend to believe them and the narcissists become disproportionately more influential in group situations…because of (this) and their strong need for recognition…when a leadership gap appears in a group or organisation, the narcissists rush to fill it.”
It’s also rather depressing to learn that they have a propensity to write management books.
Interesting as I find this there are two other reference points that I find more helpful.
The first is about Bill Clinton whose supporters were often taxed by his behaviour not least during the Kosovo crisis. Here’s what Mark Steyn wrote in the Spectator at the time:-
“In his final desperate bid for a place in history the Commander-in-Chief is in danger of finding he has all the qualities of leadership except followers.”
The second is from Sam Walton.
“It doesn’t take more than a week for employees to start treating customers the way their employer treats them”.
Next topic – performance.
Do you know there’s one expression in business today that drives me berserk?
It’s the description of people as “human capital”.
Associated with that is the use of the words “high performing”.
People have become Formula One cars and the way people do their jobs is equated to how well they are tuned and maintained.
The reality is that if management treated their plant like they treat their people most would be fired for vandalism.
“High performing” like “talent”, are words that belong to the casino-gambling past where traders off their own bat bet which way the chips would fall.
What we need now are well organised and structured teams operating at their consistent best.
Like South Western Airlines who neither pay the most nor reach out for the greatest talent but for people who want to and can do their jobs properly.
They are a demonstration that organisation surpasses talent in creating a well run business.
And, as Sam Walton told us, how we treat our people is the key to how well they deliver.
This was demonstrated in a series of tests run by Claude Steele, a psychologist ofStanfordUniversity.
He ran several tests including one which comprised matched groups of men and women doing maths tests, telling the first group that it was a measurement of relative quantitative ability in men and women and in the second it was a research tool.
The women did much less well than the men in the first test but in the second test when the pressure of the assignment was removed their performance was the same as the men’s.
Expose people to the wrong kind of pressure (in this case the threat of stereotyping) and they underperform.
And the results were the same in all similar experiments.
Now where performance really matters is in teaching, where the impact of a great teacher is critical to the achievements of those they teach.
It’s strange that we insist on teachers achieving lengthy and arduous qualifications and being uber-administrators when, like actors, it’s the extent of their ability to capture the imagination and inspire that really matters.
Does Johnny Depp have an acting degree?
In defining performance it’s about time we all recognised what it is that really matters.
And finally creativity.
It would be surprising given my background in advertising if I didn’t think creativity was pretty important stuff.
Here’s what Maurice Saatchi said about it:-
“it’s the last legal way to gain an unfair advantage”
A creative phrase or insight can inspire, enlighten and change people’s minds and moods.
Creativity is innate.
Ken Robinson who describes himself as an educationist spoke about it engagingly on TED – the website on which thought-leaders speak – and if you don’t know it check it out.
So – Ken said we are born creative, behave creatively when we are young and then it’s educated out of us.
He described our educational system as being designed to create University Professors whose bodies only exist to transport their big and clever heads from one meeting to another.
So how do we get this innate creativity released again and how do we show we care?
The Partners – a Design Company – conducted a recent piece of research that showed 96% of companies thought innovation was vital to the future of their company, only 40% had anyone nominated to champion it internally and 10% ever discussed it at Board Meetings.
Let’s face it – creativity in most businesses is a nice-to-have, not a must-have when it comes to the crunch.
And anyway how do you begin to create a mood of creativity in your business –a mood from which lots of business-creating and cost-saving ideas emerge?
You have to institutionalise three things:-
- Create a radical change to the look, feel and ambience of your offices. Most offices are devoid of a real sense of welcome idea-appeal and sex-appeal. Hallo creative idea, hallo damp rag. Recently I visited the Google HQ in Zurich. Staggering. An inspiring monument to caring about people, loving new ideas and having a sense of fun, energy, colour and enthusiasm. Best of all it felt like a small family run company.
- Make it a norm for all your key people to get out of the office for at least a day a month to visit places they haven’t been before; cities, shopping centres, shops, conferences and determine they are going to see or learn ten new things. I ran an “offsite” for a company inOxford recently and created what I called “The Big Walk” which involved groups going round the City to see and experience new stuff – to open their eyes, ears and minds and to start paying attention again. They came back transformed and overflowing with thoughts.
- Run regular “Creative Workshops”. Learn how to do them so people want to be invited and so they begin to become events with an increasingly positive ROI. I wrote a book on these events recently. Done well they are inspiring and productive. Better than that people surprise themselves with how good they are. Best of all with a helpful nudge they produce money-making ideas by the bucket load.
And, you know, quite often you’ll find the great thing about creativity in business is that a just small change makes a big difference.
Ed McCabe the American advertising man said this, and remember that he was regarded as a major creative force:-
“there’s nothing new under the sun but there’s always a better way.”
The small difference that Apple makes seem to change many people’s lives.
Steve Jobs on the redesign of some computer keys said “they look so beautiful that you want to lick them”.
Now that really is a better way.
Creativity needs champions, a small investment in office design and a real belief that it can provide that magic accelerator to your acquiring an “unfair competitive advantage.”
And it requires a diversity of involvement.
Put seven clones in a room and you can predict what they’ll do.
Produce a clone.
Follow the advice of Wall Street Journal writer G. Pascal Zacchary:-
“diversity spawns creativity, nourishes the human spirit, spurs economic growth and empowers nations.”
I know creativity and human ingenuity can help transform this rather tired, money-driven world.
Creative ideas that improve customer-service, that come up with new products and ways of improving quality and productivity are within all our command if only we opened our minds to the idea of making new connections and being both curious and observant.
Big companies tend to be uncreative only because they’ve been told by that Schumacher that “small is beautiful”.
Go into your offices tomorrow determined to put new creative colour into your lives.
I want to leave you with just ten simple things to do or think about when you leave here that may and should help you to be better at what you do and just make your life a little easier.
This is all part of the Ed McCabe “there’s always a better way” scenario.
- Play to your strengths. I have always found in mentoring people that the quickest way of overcoming weaknesses is to affirm and develop strengths. It also increases self-confidence which many people need. No. All of us need.
- Know where you want to get. That’s English for “have a strategy”. As Alice said “if you don’t know where you’re going it doesn’t much matter which road you take”. Rachel Bell who runs Shine – the PR Company that on Sunday appeared in the Sunday Times 100 best small companies to work for at number 6 – is great at seeing her goals. She has real focus.
- Learn or die. A CEO of a big insurance company told me he was too busy to read nowadays. It’ll be food and drink he’ll give up next. Or breathing. Constant learning and re-learning is not an option for you guys it’s a must do.
- Learn to listen again. Use what I call “active listening” – that’s listening and hearing and understanding (understanding even the subtext). It’s hard to do because we’ve all got too used to turning “transmit” up and “receive” down.
- Love your job. If you don’t you’ll do it badly. Radiate the good stuff. At an advertising agency I ran, sometime after I had gone on to other things, someone told me they’d have worked there for nothing they loved it so much. I wish I’d known that.
- Help your boss (and your peers). We spend too much time in our lives (and especially at work) trying to make ourselves look good. Reverse this tomorrow by trying to make your peers and your boss look good. Start being more helpful. Remember your enemies are your competitors not your colleagues.
- Be a great team player. I love what Michael Jordan the basket ball player said:- individuals win matches, teams and intelligence win leagues”. That juxtaposition of “intelligence” and “teams” is telling. It’s smart today to be a team player.
- Be alert and super-reactive. When things are changing so fast we all need to be tuned into to changing direction or reformulating. It was the quote from J. “Moms” Mabley:- “if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got” which endorsed my sense of the need to be assertive. But that great line from Hill Street Blues shades it:-“Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.”
- Be a good storyteller. We are living through a thrilling narrative. Capture the drama of the times in the way you communicate. And do yourself credit in the way you present yourself and your team. You are a brand no less. Start enjoying being distinctive.
- Be a Magician. John Sculley ex-Pepsi, ex-Apple said:- “we need impresarios and wizards nowadays”- and it’s on recalling that, I sense the shortcoming of the “War for Talent” is that it only identifies the need for “wizards”. What we need are Renaissance men and women who can do and want to try and do a lot of different extraordinary things. Do not set your sights too low.
Some thoughts, some tips, some things I’ve learned, some short cuts,
To end on just a few things that have inspired me recently.
India – where I’m doing some work advising on marketing some new township developments – a place where the norm for developments now is 50% building, 50% green space – where growth, success and the hunger for learning is palpable – it’s trying so hard it’s just brilliant.
China – smelling the rush of adrenalin and then standing inTiananmen Square and just thinking.
Doing a study on Generation Y and discovering how inspiring they were to me (and I’ll quote Roger Alexander, the Chairman of lawyers, Lewis Silkin, who said it so well)
“This generation is the brightest, smartest and nicest I’ve come across. We are very lucky.”
And finally back to John Sculley when he was at Pepsi Cola.
When Steve Jobs was trying to hire him to run Apple, Steve said:-
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”
Well do you, no – do we want a chance to change the world?
Because if we don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for us.
March 3rd 2010
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