Thursday, October 30, 2014

Work Different, Think Different

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Those of us who can remember life before the internet and smartphones might associate brain training with crossword puzzles or Sudoku (which have long been purported to have positive impacts on the brain in terms of reducing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s).

Nowadays, there are around 1,500 different apps that help you train your brain, whether to test your memory, improve your language skills or tackle a mathematical problem if you’re that way inclined, or want to be.

A new app just out, called Peak, takes a slightly different approach to the brain training game. The point of difference is that it takes the game to the next level by turning it into a competition, allowing you to compare your scores to those of others in your age group. What’s a game without a little competition?

Another point of difference is that it allows users to compare their mental abilities with others in the same line of work. This provides useful feedback for users who want to find out how they stack up against their colleagues. It also has the potential to be used as a tool for recruiting. For example, the data available so far shows that some professions are more likely to excel on some skills than others. Police need rock solid memory. Software engineers need focus.

This begs the question, are there certain ‘top’ skills that employers should be focusing on when choosing employees? Or to flip it around, are our jobs doing some degree of their own subliminal brain training so that we excel in certain skills over others? I’d say there’s a bit of both.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Move over Simon Rogan. Thank you Peter Gordon. In 2010 pre The Rugby World Cup, John Kirwan and I hosted a dinner in Peter Gordon’s New York restaurant Public for big hitters in the US business and NZ Rugby union. All Black Frank Bunce joined us in an attempt to showcase NZ for US business. A young chef name Matt Lambert prepared a delicious meal for us, and that’s the last I heard of him - until a few months ago when he was awarded a Michelin star.

His new restaurant, The Musket Room in Nolita, New York received its star only months after being open. A record in the cynical judgmental world of restaurant critics. I dropped in there last night straight after work. A Tuesday night in Nolita. Promptly bumped into Robert De Niro at 6:05pm who is a real foodie. Sat down to eat and was astonished when The Boss, Bruce Springsteen sat down opposite Robert De Niro at a different table and joined in the fun. What a tribute to a young Kiwi chef’s great cooking. A New Zealand red deer with flavors of gin was as good as it gets but couldn’t compare with my steak and cheese pie. Michelin was smart enough to deliver the celebrated star for wholesome New Zealand fayre. And when Matt came out of the kitchen he stopped off to see me first! (Of course, he knew I was going to the All Blacks game in Chicago this weekend and De Niro and The Boss were not.) He is also heading up there and was looking to get the party started.

Next time any of you are in New York, go to the Musket Room on Elizabeth Street. Name drop Springsteen and De Niro to get yourself a table!!! :)


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bill Campbell, CEO Whisperer

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Bill Campbell’s career in leadership began as head football coach at New York’s Columbia University in the 70s (where he also co-founded the Old Blue Rugby Club). Since then he has coached some of the world’s top executives over the course of his career, and in June stepped down from the Board of Apple after a 17-year stint. He remains Chairman of Intuit, having been CEO 1994-98.

Despite his tendency to decline interviews and stay out of the spotlight, Bill’s influence behind the scenes has been vital to the success of many CEOs and companies. He is utterly humble, downplaying his role as a coach to the likes of Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and John Doerr. He even referred to himself in a New York Times interview by Miguel Helft as “a third-party Jiminy Cricket”, making it clear that the CEOs he advises make the decisions and deserve the credit.

According to Bill, the entire answer to a company’s success lies in great products and great people. Sounds simple enough, but if you get these elements right all the other matters take care of themselves.

To turn the tables on Bill, what makes him a good coach? He calls himself an ‘operating guy’ – helping CEOs think about what their company should look like and how they should organize it. He supports innovation by bringing the right people into the room and ensuring that the ‘lunatic fringe’ has an opportunity to contribute. It’s about making sure the right people are sitting around the table, and empowering them.

Bill is definitely more CEO Whisperer to Jiminy Cricket. He may not be a household name, but he’s made a contribution that’s significant and worth recognizing. According to e-rugbynews, ‘he remains a friendly, down-to-earth guy, and is part owner of a bar in Palo Alto called the Old Pro, where his raucous weekly get-togethers regularly attract some of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley.” Sounds like a great candidate for the US edition of Richard Hytner’s book Consiglieri: Leading from the Shadows (Richard doesn’t know he’s writing this yet).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Creativity Is A Buzzword

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‘Creativity’ has become a buzzword. When paired with its mates ‘unleash’ and ‘unlock’, they suggest that a great swell of inherent potential is about to swamp us. I’ve been an advocate for creative thinking and leadership for decades. It’s how I butter my bread. But a recent article by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker raised an interesting question: how did we come to care so much about creativity?

Its origins in the ancient world were based around the concept of a less exalted form of the imagination and a poor substitute for reality. Amazing. It then transformed into a slightly more elevated concept of ‘the creative imagination’, and then into the notion of ‘creativity’ that we all hold so dear to our hearts today.

The first step on that path was in the 18th and 19th centuries, when Romantics such as Coleridge argued that we don’t just store things in our imagination, we transform them. Hence, the ‘creative imagination’. He was clearly onto something. Coleridge went further by making a distinction between two types of imagination: the first type understands the world, while the second type cares about it and brings it to life.

And then somewhere along the way we started to think of creativity as a way of doing. We talk about ‘creative processes’ as a means to test people’s creative abilities. We measure creativity through the production of ideas, not the quality.

Sadly, we’ve moved away from the Romantic idea of creativity. We’ve confused the production of things with the living of a creative life. So next time you’re trying to be creative, or you’re trying to ‘start the flow’, take a moment to think about the origins of creativity. It’s simple. Live, observe, think and feel. Creativity will follow.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Affirmation of Humanity

Three recent articles affirm that we live in one world.
  1. Irishman Benny Lewis, 29, has been on the road for 416 weeks, almost 3,000 days, travelling to dozens of countries with few possessions and fewer funds in his back pocket. He has written 29 Life Lessons I Learned While Traveling The World For Eight Years Straight. I connect with him on most though not all of them; his #1 point is a killer app: “Everyone everywhere basically wants the same thing.” Benny writes that “Vastly different as the world’s cultures are, if you speak to Italian millionaires, homeless Brazilians, Dutch fishermen and Filipino computer programmers, in their own languages, you start to see that we are all incredibly alike where it matters. Everyone just wants validation, love, security, enjoyment and hopes for a better future. The way they verbalise this and work towards it is where things branch off, but we all have the same basic desires. You can relate to everyone in the world if you look past the superficial things that separate you.
  2. Kitchen Confidential’s fourth season has started, and Anthony Bourdain gave a lengthy interview to the Wall St Journal, in which he notes: "I assumed humans were basically bad people and if you stumbled…you would be devoured. I don't believe that anymore." Instead, reports WSJ, he has been heartened by the hospitality that he's encountered while traveling around the world, even in places he thought would be hostile to Americans. "It made me hopeful and made me feel better about the human species," he says. "We like to be good, we aspire to do good things, and we're generally trudging through life trying to do the best we can." Next year, says WSJ, Bourdain plans to open a "world market" in New York. Modeled on a Singaporean hawker center, it will have stalls of food from different cultures and countries, such as a halal stand or a Malay section. It will include some of his favorite purveyors from his travels, with a particular focus on Asian cuisine, which he especially likes. For his last meal, he says, he'd go out for high-end sushi.
  3. Is there a universal word, a rare linguistic token that is found across all languages? A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics reckons so. "We sampled 31 languages from diverse language families around the world in this study, and we found that all of them have a word with a near-identical sound and function as English “Huh?” The grunt-like "huh?" — when one is too confused for words and too caught off guard for "pardon?" — may seem to be a special form of rudeness reserved for English, but has found it is anything but.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

India Unleashed

I first visited India in 1982 and have returned more than two dozen times. I was part of the team that brought Pepsi Cola to India in the late 80s, and have been following the country’s development with eager curiosity ever since.

India is as SuperVUCA as you can get. Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy, Astounding, and one of the most (if not the most) complex cultures in the world. The country has picked up the economic pace behind new Prime Minister Modi and is moving at the speed of light, their destination driven by a desire for progress and the dreams of its young population.

The reason for my visit to India this month was to celebrate L&K Saatchi & Saatchi, the new entity that was created when Law & Kenneth joined the Saatchi & Saatchi global family earlier this year. In Mumbai, I spoke to our agency people at the Taj Land’s End (the offices in Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai tuned in via live video feed so everyone got involved), and I also spent valuable time with the senior team talking about the Saatchi Dream and 2015 action plans.

What is great about people in India is that they have high EQ. You don’t have to explain Lovemarks in India, as you can see the prose that is invested in stories about Bollywood stars that you find on – full of mystery, sensuality and intimacy. The launch of Lovemarks a decade ago by the world’s greatest movie star Shah Rukh Khan was characterized by the sort of festivities that you expect from a celebration in India. India will surprise the world one day with rugby, but for today, if their newly launched professional football league wins as many hearts as there are cricket fans, we’ll have a new nation of football fanatics to contend with. They are also entrepreneurial, innovative and digital savvy – just the kind of capability we need to win in the Age of Now.

A whirlwind of a trip. Thanks to Praveen and his team for making it possible.