Monday, October 20, 2014

Maps Without Borders

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We tend to think of maps as definitions of space and geography. Lost? Check Google Maps on your phone. Planning a round-the-world trip? Chart your locations on an atlas (or online as most people do nowadays). But maps are not exclusive to locations and destinations. Maps can look at our DNA, our relationships, global development or life expectancy, our futures and linguistics. What is a family-tree if not a map of our lineage?

Hans-Ulrich Obrist, art curator at the Swiss Serpentine and the foremost contemporary artist conversationalist, recently asked 130 creatives to contribute maps of their own for the book Mapping It Out – An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies. The maps are created by architects and artists, scientists and designers. They are simple and complex (often at once), and force you to rethink the idea of a map. Some maps in the book are traditional, such as Jona Meka’s ‘Map of 1960s New York from Memory’. Others, like scientist Albert-László Barabási’s, are factual and contemporary. Then you have the abstracts from Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. A leap out of the ordinary.

Maps can provide a unique way of examining the human condition. Much of life can’t be defined by political or geographical borders, but that does not mean they can’t be visually illustrated the same way. A recent project by MIT is creating maps based on microstories – where to find independent coffee shops in San Francisco, people who are awake in Philadelphia, bicycle crashes in Austin. Such maps might be a better representation of ourselves than the ones defined by our passports.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Master Your Movements

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As the line goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So it comes as no surprise that if you want to build influence, it starts with how you enter a room. It’s about how you look, how you act and what you say – in that order. It’s about making a connection with people, which begins in the unconscious mind, before you start thinking about the content, which is the job of the conscious mind.

This was a sentiment expressed by Nick Morgan on HBR’s blog network, to which he offered three simple pieces of advice that struck a chord with me. Not because the advice is new, but because it’s a fresh three-step take, and because it’s a good reminder.

First, check yourself. You might have your game face on, but what about the rest of you? Do you look like you’ve slept in your clothes? “Your clothes are talking about you. Always look sharp” says Bob Seelert. Be aware of your nonverbal cues – the way you walk, how you hold yourself, and where you tend to stand in a room. These cues will give your game away if you’re slinking, slouching or standing in a corner. They signal your intentions and feelings, and are thus a key determinant of your relationships with other people and your influence on them. You should be paying attention to them and deciding whether they project an image you’re happy with, or how you might improve it.

Now you’re ready to start thinking about your emotions. Clear your mind (most of us will have a lot to clear – this is what Buddhists call ‘monkey mind’) and focus on one key emotion, one that demands attention. That focus on one emotion is what makes people charismatic. That’s how they take over a room. People feel that focus and become infected by it. We’re hard-wired to notice strong emotions in others.

Finally, if you want to influence people, you’d better have something to be influential about. Invite your conscious mind to the party. All eyes are on you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Like a Rolling Stone

Image source: Zander Takatomo

In anyone’s life, it’s pretty cool to be able to announce Bob Dylan. That’s the experience I had last week in New York when the University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Project held a launch at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York. I had the pleasure of announcing Mr Bob as Founding Patron of the University of Auckland’s Research Fund for Creativity and as the inaugural Creative Laureate of the University’s Creative Thinking Project.

Ever the mystery, Bob was not physically present but this did not diminish the significance of his association with this compelling Auckland project to deepen understanding of the creative process order to foster wide participation, and promote creativity as central to individual and community wellbeing and development.

Sheldon Levy, SVP of Broadcast at SaatchiNY, talks about “being in the traffic” and the event at 375 Hudson St proved just that. There was an engrossing conversation featuring NY cultural powerhouse and President Emerita of the Museum of Modern Art Agnes Gund, Google Director of Engineering Craig Nevil-Manning, renowned neuroscientist and classical scholar Nancy Andreasen and artist/photographer Clifford Ross, delicately choreographed by NYU Professor and Auckland Uni alum Peter Rajsingh. There was an artist room featuring Walters Prize winner Kate Newby and New Museum Lab fellow Carlo Van der Roer with his awesome human aura photographs.

The official announcements read like this:

Stuart McCutcheon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland: “As one of the most creative voices of our time, Bob Dylan inspires the imagination. He has been a restless and challenging creative force across the world for 50 years, writing anthemic songs that span generations. He is also the first rock musician voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. And he has been a frequent visitor to New Zealand to perform concerts since 1978.”

Peter Rajsingh, Chair of the US Friends of the University of Auckland: “Bob Dylan has been a transformative figure while remaining outside the mainstream. In this regard, he parallels the ethos of New Zealand, a country that has made significant contributions to the world by ‘leading from the edge.’”

Jenny Dixon, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland: “Creative thinking drives success,” “Creativity is a proven force for cognitive development, academic achievement and social and economic innovation. Being creative strengthens neural pathways and generates lasting connections. It opens up worlds of possibility and change.”

The Research Fund for Creativity will support research in New Zealand and internationally, across all disciplines seeking to understand creativity and find creative solutions to global issues.

And Bob: For the first time, every single Bob Dylan lyric, including variations, will be published in one book. The Lyrics: Since 1962, numbering over 1,000 pages, will go on sale for $200 on Oct. 28 from publisher Simon & Schuster. Three thousand copies will be available.

The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 set for November 4 release by Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings. Meticulously restored for the first time from newly found original tape sources, six disc set is definitive chronicle of Dylan's legendary 1967 sessions with The Band. Compiled from meticulously restored original tapes – many found only recently - this historic six-disc set is the definitive chronicle of the artist's legendary 1967 recording sessions with members of his touring ensemble who would later achieve their own fame as The Band.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Post-Failure Recovery Programme

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South African business coach Karl Smith has written about the seven steps to starting over after failure. He makes a valuable point that nothing great succeeded the first time. Failure is part of the process. And I agree with him that the best thing you can do post-failure is be proactive about moving forward.

His recovery programme is common sense advice:
  1. Accept responsibility for your own failure. Own It. It's yours. That's the first step to regaining respect. 
  2. Recognize when you haven't succeeded. Know when to cut your losses and stop flogging the dead horse. This can be quite hard, but we have to always be wary of our own blinkers. 
  3. Make sure the pieces from your failure have been sufficiently picked up. As Smith says: "If you have a reputation to repair, then take care of that immediately, so your future ventures will be taken seriously by those around you." 
  4. Remind yourself of your past successes. Even in the depths of despair, go back and reflect on the times you did succeed and remember how you survived past mistakes. 
  5. Make a positive decision. Anything at all. Even if it's something as simple as to take a day off and go swimming. Get refreshed so when you revisit the failure you're in a better headspace. 
  6. Forget the past and focus on the future. Water under the bridge. Take stock and move on to the next project or purpose. 
  7. Revisit your vision. To quote Stephen Covey: "All things are created twice." Failure is a good crystallizer. When you start again you have greater clarity of logic. Use it.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Stress in the Spotlight

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I was once told by Bob Seelert that to run Saatchi & Saatchi effectively you need, every morning, to “strap on a waterproof back and a bulletproof vest.” I took that advice and never looked back. I’m passionate about what I do, I want to be the best and I’ve been determined to enjoy a life well lived and not get distracted or brought down by stress, a gift that keeps on giving if it lets you.

Perhaps this is why I have been given the opening chapter in a new book Stress in the Spotlight, a book by Brian Claridge, UK journalist and Cary Cooper, Pro Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University. The book features individuals in high pressure positions from all walks of life. Take Major Chris Hunter, a former bomb disposal expert, or leading children’s surgeon Dr. David Dunaway. They operated in life and death situations. Then there are others like co-founder and senior executive of Specsavers Dame Mary Perkins DBE, international fashion designer Jeff Banks CBE and celebrity chef, TV presenter and author Ken Hom OBE. Unique insights from unique people.

My advice to people who experience stress is to “know thyself.” Work out what stresses you out and eliminate it, or work to manage or balance it with things you enjoy. Find something you’re passionate about that doesn’t cause you stress. Make Happy Choices. And if you’re having trouble dealing with stress? Focus, commitment and discipline are what I swear by to manage any stress. Calmness and purposeful commitment to action are usually what is required and appreciated. As General Norman Schwarzkopf said, “When given command, take control and do what’s right.”

My chapter ends with this quote by Mark Twain: “if you do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Stress in the Spotlight is out on 29 October. Pre-order your copy at or Amazon. Check it out.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

That Friday Feeling

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A survey on smiling commissioned by hello – an oral care company, not the magazine – has found British employees are much happier than people think. The survey also confirmed that Friday is a day for smiling.

The survey of 2,000 British employees found people are most likely to get the “Friday feeling” at exactly 2:56pm every Friday. The time was worked out by generating an average based on answer options. The questions included how many times a day people found themselves smiling, and at what time were they were most likely to smile. Hello said the survey challenges the assumption that Brits are typically unhappy and miserable, revealing that one in five people smile more than 21 times a day (but can do better – what are the other 80% doing?).