Friday, 30 March 2012

Entrepreneurship and age

Interesting and provocative article by “Schumpeter” in The Economist* turning on its head the idea that entrepreneurs are predominantly the young.

Among the examples he cites of creativity stretching well into “Third Age” are The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen.

Then, digging into recent research, Schumpeter says that in the USA “twice as many successful founders [of start-ups] are over 50 as under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20.”

And he says that research shows that “the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity [is] among people aged 55 to 64 – and the lowest rate among the Google generation of 20 to 34 year-olds.”

So what might we conclude?

1.That experience coupled with creativity is critically important to successful entrepreneurship, and that

2.Maybe it’s more a generational thing more than an age thing. After all, the examples he quotes all come from the 1960s generation that considered creativity to be of the essence. Talkin' 'bout my generation. Schumpeter doesn’t seem to have considered this possibility.

Time will tell!


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Freedom and strategy

“Give me the freedom of a tightly defined strategy,” wrote legendary British creative adman, Norman Berry.

How few seem to grasp this powerful paradox. In fact many creatives seem to resent it.

Truth is, many of them then flounder.

Norman Berry (1931-2010) was a copywriter at Lintas initially (where his father had worked as an art director before him), then at Young & Rubicam, becoming creative director. In 1964 he founded Davidson Pearce Berry and Spottiswoode, an agency that created the famous and long-running “Chimps” campaign for PG Tips. The agency was acquired by Ogilvy & Mather, where he became creative director in New York.

His aim always was to create a climate where creativity would flourish.

He died two years ago and his daughter, the poet Lucy Berry, has written about how “wonderfully bloody-minded, funny, and difficult my father was – and how loving he could be.”

Monday, 26 March 2012

Spending on marketing in hard times

When I started work on Rowntree’s Fruit Gums and Fruit Pastilles in 1967, my rather ancient and knowledgeable boss, Michael Evans, told me that the reason those brands had survived the Second World War was that the company had continued to advertise throughout that time, whereas many competitors had withdrawn from supporting their brands, which had in turn died post-war.

Now there’s a powerful article in the current issue of Market Leader magazine by my colleague at City University London, Vincent-Wayne Mitchell. He’s Professor of Consumer Marketing there.

The article lines up the reasons that marketing spend in hard times can be highly effective. Here are a few of his points (all derived from recent research):

Increased share of voice (as competitors rein back)
Increased saliency and perceived brand quality
Boosted consumer confidence
Helps to justify premium prices
Increase in brand switchers to our brand
Reduction in media costs in a recession
Market share gains

Mitchell adds: “Breakthrough innovations can build firm value significantly, while small innovations preserve firm value.”

Wise words!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Imagining Imagine

When I joined Synectics to head up their business around the world outside of America, in the first board meeting I criticised the company’s promotional materials. “Boring,” was the word I used, as I recall.

This was a mistake. The other board members totally agreed with my assessment and, before I knew it, I was commissioned to create a new corporate brochure.

This was particularly a problem for me because, far from being unusually boring, Synectics’s existing brochure was the usual kind of self-serving corporate-speak.

The question was: what could be done about it? How could we produce something different, better and special that would reflect our company more accurately and at the same time add value to people’s lives in terms of creativity and innovation?

Several months passed. Then, desperate to get going, I had a beer with the freelance writer, Andrew Bailey. I described the situation to him.

“What have you got?” he asked.

“Well, nothing really,” I replied. “Except… I have a file of interesting quotes and stories that I’ve been collecting for the past twenty years.”

“Let’s start there,” said Andrew briskly. “We’ll do Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book of Innovation.”

So that was the start-idea for what became Imagine. It was so successful that we printed, circulated and sold some 50,000 copies over the following years – and it’s still in print now.

Asked in an interview to name the most important business book ever, Unilever’s Roger Kirman unhesitatingly nominated Imagine.


Thursday, 22 March 2012

Learning to be more creative

I haven’t yet read Jonah Lehrer’s new best-selling book on creativity, Imagine: How Creativity Works, but I have read his extended article in last week’s Wall Street Journal, and I’m not impressed.

He starts from the proposition that “there’s no such thing as a creative type” and that “anyone can be learn to be creative”. It is not an encouraging thesis.

Basically it’s an extension of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours insight. And while it’s true that everyone can improve their connection-making skill (this being at the heart of all creativity), nevertheless it’s quite observable that some amongst us have creative skills of a quite different order.

Think Shakespeare, Mozart, Einstein, Edison, Turing… To be frank, even with a million hours of skill-building, I’m unlikely to achieve their level of, well, genius. And to deny this strikes me as, well, blind.

I have been training people in creative thinking over several decades now, and I notice consistently that the students who have lost their creativity (or suppressed it or never seemed to have had much anyway) can indeed up their game substantially. However they never catch up with the ones who have real self-confidence in their connection-making capabilities.

The latter make massive progress in a structured training session, because they are enabled to hone skills that already exist, taking them up to a whole new level. Whether the basis for their special talent is nature or nurture seems to me to be of secondary importance.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Rediscovering Walter Barnett

I’ve been asked how I came to rediscover the photographer, Walter Barnett. This is what happened.

I was writing a little book* on some portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa painted by Count Nerli. It gradually became clear that only one, maybe two of them – there were over twenty in total – had been actually painted there in 1892. The rest had been painted later, a lot later, in a studio lent to Nerli in Knightsbridge, London, by Barnett.

Barnett had been approached by his friend, the Australian artist Arthur Streeton, on behalf of Nerli, who was finding it tough to break through in London.

Then it dawned on me that two pastels of Stevenson by Nerli (above) were based directly on a photograph of the writer (taken by Barnett in Sydney in 1893, the year after Nerli was in Samoa).

And a pencil drawing of the writer, now in the State Library in Sydney, carried the inscription: “Al mio caro amico H Walter Barnett, questo ricordo di Samoa Girolamo Pieri-Nerli offre.” (To my dear friend H Walter Barnett, Girolamo Pieri-Nerli offers this souvenir of Samoa.)

All of this was enough to encourage me to explore the life and work of Walter Barnett.

It turned out that the work was primarily to be found in four places – in the State Library in Sydney, in the Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and in the National Portrait Gallery also in London.

*Robert Louis Stevenson and Count Nerli in Samoa: The Story of a Portrait, Red Lion Press, 1997

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Walter Barnett at 150

I missed Walter Barnett’s 150th birthday. He was born on 25 January 1862.

Walter who? H Walter Barnett. Australia’s first world-class portrait photographer. I was lucky enough to rediscover him and his fine work and thought Something Should Be Done about it. But what?

So on a trip to Sydney, I went to see my friend Leo Schofield, at that time director of the Sydney Festival. Leo knows everything worth knowing about the arts in Australia.

“What do you think of Walter Barnett’s work, Leo?” I asked as innocently as possible.

“Walter who?”

“You know, the Australian portrait photographer,” I replied.

“No. Don’t think I know of him,” said Leo.

Cue for me to lay out on Leo’s desk a dozen or so photocopies of Barnett portraits – the writer Robert Louis Stevenson, the great pianist Paderewski, Mark Twain, the “father” of Australia Sir Henry Parkes, artists Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, Dame Nellie Melba, actress Sarah Bernhardt (above), sculptor Auguste Rodin and so on.

There was a pause.

“Will you curate an exhibition for the Festival?” asked Leo.

“Well yes. I’d be delighted to.”

That morning, Leo called Andrew Sayers, director of the recently-opened National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, and so Legends: The Art of Walter Barnett became an NPG project that ran in Sydney, Canberra and the Mornington Peninsula.

Overall it was visited by some 186,000 people.

Friday, 16 March 2012

How long haul business class was transformed

In the 1990s, there was a battle royal between airlines over long-haul business class.

In fact, the competitive situation seemed to me to be like angels being danced on the head of a pin, so slender were the real differences between the various players. One would offer a 45 degree seat recline, another an extra four inches of legroom, while a third would offer bone china crockery.

But in practical terms they were all so close together that customers bought primarily on price. Everyone was losing money.

So British Airways set up a big innovation workshop. People from every part of the airline plus several regular long-haul business class passengers. Some sixty of us in all. I designed and facilitated the workshop for them – in Dubai – and people flew in for it from around the globe.

Mostly on day one we brainstormed possible wishes for improvement. I was astonished by the services that business class passengers might wish for: massage my feet, cool my brow, peel me a grape, champagne intravenously and so on and so on.

Then, towards the end of the day, quite quietly, one of the passenger participants said: “You know, I’d trade all that, every bit of it, for a decent night’s sleep.” And what that meant, to him, was to have a flat bed, just like the folks in First Class.

It was as though the clouds had parted. Here was a genuine difference. After all, the majority of long-haul flights are overnight ones.

But identifying the breakthrough insight was just the beginning. BA then had to work out how to deliver the new benefit without sacrificing half the passenger density. And this they did using their “herringbone” layout.

Altogether it transformed BA’s long-haul business class – Club World as it’s branded – in terms of reputation, share, sales, price-point and profitability.

And for some reason or other, their competitors failed to respond for several years. But that’s another story.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

My fifteen minutes of fame

Chapter of accidents, more like.

As world president of the International Advertising Association, I was asked to chair the first-ever advertising conference in China. It was May 1991, just twenty-four months after the Tiananmen Square protests.

The fun started early. Arriving early morning on an overnight flight at Beijing airport in my comfortable track-suit, hair awry, I was greeted by TV cameras, photographers and eager Chinese journos, notepads at the ready.

On the day before the conference, I made five speeches to different gatherings, ending with a Gala Banquet in the Great Hall of the People. My host kept reassuring me that no speech would be required, but I knew enough by this stage to be aware that it just might be a necessity. So, after some twenty of twenty-seven courses (I couldn’t get past twelve), he motioned to me that it was my turn. Up I got…

In the weeks running up to the conference I was constantly badgered by the organisers for a copy of my opening keynote speech. But since I was going to speak about the nexus between market economy, freedom of the press and the role of advertising, I was advised that all the interesting bits would be censored.

So I kept it all to myself until the last moment, personally handing copies to each of the interpreters. There were around ten thousand delegates.

In the break afterwards, there was a long, long line of people to shake hands (and be photographed) with, and from time-to-time one would whisper to me, “We never heard all that before here.”

Job done. Even if it was just a start.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Making predictions

By definition, in innovation we are dealing with the future. And we know that the future is always a foreign country – they will do things differently there.

The problem, of course is in prediction. And that problem is compounded by the degree of attention that we pay to our leaders at any given time.

Take Davos. The great and the good regularly assemble there in order to pontificate. In 1997 the world’s political and economic elect designated Southeast Asia as the most dynamic region. This was shortly ahead of meltdown, the Asian financial crisis, when Thailand, hardest hit, effectively became bankrupt.

Then in 2008 Davos totally failed to predict the forthcoming global banking crisis, initiated by Bear Stearns and Lehmann Brothers.

Almost laughable was the 1991 prediction of Lord Rees-Mogg, one of Britain’s most respected pundits, who foresaw “a decade of escalating economic and political disorder unparalleled since the 1930s.” Right outcome (broadly). Wrong decade.

Robert Millikan, awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1923, declared: “There is no likelihood that man can ever tap the power of the atom.”

The problem arises fundamentally from hubris. I get a senior governmental or academic position and start to believe that I know what the future holds.

It was George Santayana who said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Perhaps more useful are the words of Yogi Berra: “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Secrets and confidentiality

Often I’m asked by clients to sign confidentiality agreements. I’m sure that these are important from a legal viewpoint.

But in truth they are not really the point.

The point is to know inside oneself that you’re not going to tell one client another client’s secrets, however tempting it is to appear “in the know”.

So mum’s the word. In all circumstances. Whether or not a written agreement is in force.

Among McKinsey & Company’s values is this:

Keep our client information confidential: We don’t reveal sensitive information. We don’t promote our own good work. We focus on making our clients successful.

Couldn’t be clearer. Sometimes not so easy to live up to in a large firm.

Of course, when stuff is in the public domain, it’s no longer a secret. I have known clients who don’t appear to grasp this!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Women wanted for innovation?

Interesting piece on the Voxy news/blog site in New Zealand lamenting the lack of women innovators:

According to Voxy, women take out less than 1% of all patents in New Zealand. Of course, this is a real problem – and not only in Kiwiland, but all over the Western world.

In my view the source of the matter lies in the negative attitudes of women towards science and mathematics, and in particular towards engineering. In the “West” there are simply too few women engineers. For it’s engineers that dominate the patent game.

I wonder what the figures look like in Russia or China, where there are shedloads of female engineers?

But perhaps Voxy is taking too pessimistic a view of the situation. After all, in the real world, most innovation happens without any consideration of patents – in strategy, in brand development, in organisational change, in people management, in design, in cultural development, in the arts and so on.

And women may well be in the majority in all those fields, innovating day by day.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

On being interviewed in Australia

I was sent to Sydney in 1980 to see the Unilever Ice Cream client and review the work of our agency. I was responsible at that time for Lintas’s Unilever ice cream portfolio around the world.

I was there for about two and a half days. All went well. The people in the agency seemed terrific. And, of course, I loved Sydney and thought how great it would be to live there.

On the final afternoon, the bar opened around five, and a party of us moved on to dinner. Then to bar one, bar two and so on.

At something like five in the morning, all that was left of us was the brilliant and witty Jeff Seldon, and myself.

When I got home, the boss of the network said, “Well they liked you. Do you want the job?”

And that’s how I became chairman of Lintas Australia. I had the time of my life there.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Stepping out with William Lisle Bowles

Aside from my regular daily walking regime, yesterday afternoon I “went out” for the first time in a while. Quite a step.

I led a meeting of our local village reading group – on our own local Romantic poet, William Lisle Bowles, now almost totally forgotten.

Bowles was born in 1762 in King’s Sutton and lived his first seven years here, where his father was the vicar. So this year is the 250th anniversary of his birth.

In short, he was one of the earliest pioneers of the move into Romanticism. So his poetry, mainly in sonnet form, influenced many of those who followed – Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, Keats etc. In 1794 Coleridge wrote a sonnet in fulsome praise of Bowles.

This is one of William Lisle Bowles’s own sonnets. See what you think.

O TIME! who know'st a lenient hand to lay
Softest on sorrow's wound, and slowly thence,
(Lulling to sad repose the weary sense)
Stealest the long-forgotten pang away;
On Thee I rest my only hope at last,
And think, when thou hast dried the bitter tear
That flows in vain o'er all my soul held dear,
I may look back on many a sorrow past,
And meet life's peaceful evening with a smile --
As some poor bird, at day's departing hour,
Sings in the sunbeam, of the transient shower
Forgetful, tho' its wings are wet the while: --
Yet ah! how much must that poor heart endure,
Which hopes from thee, and thee alone, a cure!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Swinging Sixties in Berkeley Square

Arriving from my provincial home town aged nineteen to take up a menial job at the biggest, most fashionable advertising agency in London, J Walter Thompson in Berkeley Square, in the Swinging Sixties was a rather daunting experience.

I’d never really encountered people like this before. Many of them seemed to be hiding the fact that they were Lord This, or the Honourable That, or Sir Somebody Other. And the ones who didn’t have that sort of pedigree carried themselves with a sense of entitlement that seemed to carry all before.

The boss of the little department that I was in was Jan. She would arrive at the office around 11am each morning, check that we, the boys, had done the morning’s rounds, and prepare herself for lunch. This was a major operation. Basically a very pretty girl, she transformed herself, with the aid of trowelfuls of make-up into a clone of Mary Quant.

And when this was done, she would pop off to Knightsbridge to lunch with some young Viscount or other.

Returning slightly before 3pm, she would go through the same ritual as in the morning – and launch herself a second time, this time upon the evening’s entertainment.

I remember it all so well. It was another world.