Wednesday, 29 September 2010


One of the earliest major art exhibitions that I went to in London was of Leonardo da Vinci’s extraordinary drawings from the royal collection. It was at the recently opened Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace and the year was 1969. I have the modest catalogue (nothing like today’s glossy doorstops) open in front of me now.

I don’t think that I’d previously taken in the amazing range of Leonardo’s interests, inventions and speculations. Human anatomy, engineering, animals and plants, dragons and other beasties, weapons, astronomy, not to mention a multitude of studies for his major paintings – continuously recorded both in a series of notebooks and on loose sheets.

Buried in one of Leonardo’s notebooks, amongst a series of mathematical calculations, is the single line, written in large letters: “IL SOLE NO SI MUOVE” – “THE SUN DOES NOT MOVE”.

The implication of the observation is clear. The sun does not revolve around the earth, rather the earth revolves around the sun. He wrote the line a whole century before the great astronomical breakthroughs of Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler.

Perhaps Leonardo did no more with his revolutionary thought, leaving it buried in the notebook, not sharing it with anyone, because he feared the consequences. After all, when Galileo started to disseminate this discovery in 1615, he was tried for heresy.

Self-censorship (springing from fear of the consequences of sharing an unusual idea with senior management) is one of the major reasons that breakthrough innovations are stillborn. That is why the creation by management at all levels of a climate of openness, of speculation, of absurdity even, is so important.

How is it in your workplace?

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


At the new Brand Renovation Masterclass at Cass Business School on 7 October , I’m being joined by the wonderful Dr David Walker, who leads the successful innovation consultancy, Happen.

We were colleagues for several years, and, thinking about the forthcoming event, it came back to me that David and I together achieved the rather remarkable result of scoring an average of 11.3 recurring out of 10 when we asked for feedback from the group we had just trained together in creativity and innovation at Unilever in the Netherlands.

I’d love to say that this kind of thing happens frequently, but no such luck. The team had clearly managed to escape from the constraints of logical thinking.

Happened to you?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Renovating Skoda

What do you call a Skoda with a sun roof?
A skip.
What do you call a classic Skoda?
A Lada.
How do you double the value of a Skoda?
Fill the tank.
Why do Skodas have heated rear windows?
To keep your hands warm when pushing.
What do you call a Skoda in winter?
A freezer.
What do you call a Skoda at the top of the hill?
A miracle.
“Do you have a windscreen wiper for my Skoda?”
"Sounds like a fair swap."
How do you overtake a Skoda?
What do you call a Skoda with twin exhausts?
A wheelbarrow.
How is a Skoda similar to a baby?
They never go anywhere without a rattle.

These familiar jokes are now totally from that foreign country, the past. In fact, Skoda turned around both the quality of the product, and the reputation of their brand, to become the car manufacturer with the highest level of repeat purchase in Britain.

Join us and learn more at the Brand Renovation Masterclass at Cass Business School on Thursday 7 October

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Trawling for ideas

Credit to Britain’s Chancellor (Finance Minister), George Osborne, for this initiative:

Archie Norman and Allan Leighton pioneered this highly people-centred search for good new ideas very successfully - the “Tell Archie” programme - at ASDA.

Hope Osborne gets similar results (and credit).

So many organisations could up their game (and motivate their people) by transforming their tired “staff suggestions” schemes.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Down at the Old Bull and Bush

It’s over two years since my friend and colleague, Tom Tracey, died. I went to the ceremony at Golders Green Crematorium on a wet day in June.

I’d first got to know him when he was the brilliant and iconoclastic creative director of Lintas in New Zealand in the 80s.

There were eight of us in all there at the service. For someone so interesting and engaging and creative, it was strange that there were so few. But then Liverpudlian Tom had lived his adult life all over the world, everywhere it seemed except London. The lady who led the ceremony read out loving remembrances and tributes from Tom's friends in far off lands.

It struck me that Tom made relationships with people wherever he happened to be. And that he tended to move on, appreciating each place, and his colleagues and friends there, without needing to hold on to the past.

At the ceremony I told the story of Tom's campaign for Unilever's Rinso, one that he was intensely proud of. Following orders from HQ, the brand name was dropped in favour of one of those international brands, although Rinso was right up there among the most trusted, even loved, products in New Zealand. It had been patiently renovated by Kiwi marketers over the best part of a century. Tom thought it right and proper that there should be a proper goodbye to such a constant friend, even if it was only a washing powder. What a paradox that he himself should leave us so quietly, without fuss.

Afterwards we repaired to the Old Bull and Bush in Hampstead. Somewhat embarrassed, we sang the chorus of Florrie Forde’s hit song from the early 1900s in the saloon bar - “Come, come, come and make eyes at me, down at...”, and we raised a glass to him.