Thursday, August 21, 2014

Citizens of the WWW (Whole Wide World)

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently opined on the state of America and the disparity between generations. You have older people who grieve the alleged demise of the US as a global superpower, while youth seem unfazed. Young people see themselves as global citizens. Patriotism doesn’t set them alight so easily.

As an explanation to why this is happening, Maureen quotes BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith: “They’re more interested in this moment of crazy opportunity, with the massive economic and cultural transformation driven by Silicon Valley. And kids feel capable of seizing it. Technology isn’t a section in the newspaper any more. It’s the culture.”

He’s right. The technological transformation has been swift, even more so over the past five years. Youth feel empowered. Powerful. They have a voice; tools; distribution. They’re globally connected and media savvy. Unbridled. Nothing is impossible. Culture is by technology.

Douglas Adams: “Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Black Tie Day

I haven’t worn a tie for a decade or two, but today was the exception as the New Zealand Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae held an investiture ceremony in Auckland for recipients of New Zealand Honours. My award – the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit – was for “services to business and the community”. All I can say is: “Thank you.” Also being recognised today was my friend John Hood, former Vice Chancellor at Auckland and Oxford Universities, who was knighted for services to tertiary education. There was just the right amount of pomp and ceremony but being New Zealand there was a charming aura of generosity and community. A day to remember.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Winning Curiosity of Lee Child

Jack Reacher. A character that is more than enticing. He grabs you in a bear hug and hauls you along for the ride. You can taste his rage with every injustice he encounters. What has always struck me about Lee Child’s books are the obscure details and references about cars, landscapes, mannerisms, chains of command and long distance rifle shooting. You might say that such observations are simply tools of the trade for a novelist, but Child has a way of making his books so unshakeably American. Yet Jim Grant (Lee Child being a pseudonym), is very British (Coventry, Birmingham, Manchester, Cumbria, some of my stomping grounds past and present), albeit a resident of New York since 1998.

I can imagine American fans being surprised by this when they hear that someone who maps the badlands of America is transplanted from Great Britain. Reacher, an American hero with a bent for vengeance, was created by the lanky Brit from the Northwest who used to work in a Manchester TV studio as a presentation director involved in the transmission of more than 40,000 hours of programming for Granada, writing thousands of commercials and news stories. No wonder he has an eye for detail. Child wrote his first Reacher book at his kitchen table. A book set in Georgia, USA.

I came across an interview with Lee Child recently that broached the topic of his ability to create authenticity through observation. In his words: “I’m an aficionado about everything. I like to know how things work. I see situations and I absorb and remember them.” His talent for observation, and ability to weave all sorts of bizarre facts and references, is what has always enabled the Reacher series to avoid a stale death. The beauty is that Child can take you anywhere because of his curiosity to know how everything works. I doubt he even knows how many books he has sold now, but it’s in the tens of millions.

Lee Child’s new book Personal is due soon. I’m just finishing Daniel Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon story, The Heist, so September 2 rolls around very nicely.

Monday, August 18, 2014

It’s A Kind Of Magic

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Here’s an interesting fact from an article in the New York Times. Did you know that an algorithm is only marginally better than human instinct at predicting whether a tweet should be retweeted? The difference in success is only 6%, which shows that even though Big Data can improve our chances of reaching an outcome by calculating hundreds – if not thousands – of variables, the wild human mix of grey matter and emotion holds advantages that computers cannot replace.

Algorithms might know that a longer tweet or one saying ‘please’ might have a better chance of getting a retweet, but it won’t understand the emotional reasoning behind a person’s decision to. Data is unable to understand people’s responses to words, pictures or video or feel the emotions of the people it’s intended for. Numbers have the ability to show us why, but they can never make people do stuff. A great test score will not trump an incredible personality. An impressive number won’t deliver amazing chemistry. If you’re trying to make a sale, know your numbers but don’t neglect learning the emotional drivers that can take it from “maybe” to “absolutely!” As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Is There a Right Kind of Sports Fan?

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There’s a great reflection on the heart of a sports fan on SB Nation’s Canis Hoopus blog. AverageJer asks himself questions that I am sure many a die-hard fan is familiar with:

“Is the loyalty worth it? When isn’t it? Some here have threatened to stop supporting the team if certain outcomes occur. Does this mean they are less of a fan or does it simply mean they have stopped deriving personal benefit from their efforts? I’m not one to judge these kinds of things but I am curious what other people think. Is there a right and a wrong way to root for a sports team? Is blind loyalty nothing more than blissful ignorance or is it an enlightened union with a force larger than the individual parts it’s made from? Help me out here friends, why do I do this day after day and how will I know when enough is enough?”

Is there a right kind of sports fan?

On one hand you have people who enjoy the game, but not so much as to revel in the glory and commiserate in the pain. These are apathetic fans. They tune in and out depending on results. Ship-jumpers who support a new team every few years.

Then you have the lifers. In it forever, thick or thin. Watching every game, analyzing every move, treating players like one of the family. Their wardrobes show team colors. Many have club tattoos on their body and bumper stickers on their cars. They know all the words to the club songs and are compendiums of historical knowledge.

Is one type of fan better for the sport than the other? Every type of fan takes a different perspective. Many loathe each other, for their intensity or lack of. In my younger years this all played out in the pub. Today, it’s a digital discussion.

But for me, sport has always been about the magnificent moment on the field of play, a dazzling movement, a winning score – and then the camaraderie of sharing it among friends and mates. Anyone who watches sport, participates in it, and learns to appreciate it enough to support it positively, should be welcomed. Teams need all kinds of fans to get behind their games. It’s what contributes to the competitiveness and electricity that you get when game play is on.

For a few hopping-off points, check out:

  • The Roar: Your Sports Opinion. From Australia. Read my friend Spiro Zavos’ commentary on the captaincy merits of Michael Hooper and Kieran Reid and the Waratahs’s last minute victory over the Crusaders for the Super Rugby title in the southern hemisphere. Did Reid (and McCaw) give the game away through poor decision-making in those final minutes when they where ahead 32-30?
  • Manchester United recently played Real Madrid in an exhibition game at ‘The Big House’ in Ann Arbor Michigan. See these fantastic photos from The Telegraph of the biggest crowd for a soccer game in the USA – 109,318 people! 
  • On 1 November the All Blacks play the USA Eagles at Soldier Field in Chicago. Will this be the biggest attendance for a rugby match in USA history? See you in the Windy City, and in the meantime here’s to the All Blacks this weekend who are set to take on the Wallabies in the first match of the Bledisloe Cup.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Grandkids Are The Best Revenge

A while back I was privileged to speak on the same bill about creativity with Francis Ford Coppola. Filmmaker, wine maker, hotelier and all round good guy. He said “The ultimate luxury is traveling with family. At a certain point in your life, you get the idea that if you buy a new car, it’s a thrill for about a week. Material objects are very short lived but a memory with your family lives forever.” Over the past three weeks I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with my grandkids in two of my favorite places… my home in Grasmere and the One & Only Palmilla, Los Cabos. Experiencing the world through the eyes of a 3 year old can’t be beat.