Tuesday, December 12, 2017

AT Kearney Weighs in on 2018

My friends at AT Kearney have called their VUCA world shots on 2018.

“In today’s increasingly volatile world, it is difficult to speculate about what might happen next week; predicting the course of events over the next year is even more challenging. Shifting attitudes and heightened tensions in society, rising populism and nationalism in politics, and rapid technological change are all contributing to significant uncertainty in the external environment. There are, therefore, some domains for which we cannot make predictions for the year ahead with a reasonable degree of certainty. Despite this mounting volatility and complexity, there is a compelling case for the ongoing need to scan for future developments. It is with this argument in mind that we issue this annual set of predictions, which we hope will contribute to active debate on the various forces of change at work and the consequences they imply.

“In that spirit, the Global Business Policy Council makes 10 specific predictions for 2018, all of which will have important implications for the global business environment."

1. Quantum supremacy will be achieved. (KR note: if you are any doubts about the supremacy of quantum computing, read the new novel by The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, The Quantum Spy).

2. Difficult negotiations will raise the risk of a hard Brexit in early 2019 (KR note: the binary choice of In/Out was one of the dumbest electoral decisions in history; to decide this the electorate should have been presented with a series of multiple choice questions).

3. Facial recognition technology will become omnipresent. (KR note: I rely on Head & Shoulders despite having a sparse cranium; how will it figure in the scanner?)

4. The threat from the Islamic State will metastasize in Southeast Asia, Africa, and beyond. (KR note: radical optimism is the only route).

5. Domestic politics in Germany and France will cut short the “Merkron” honeymoon phase. (KR note: despite France’s anxiety about its who/what/why, it did put on a gracious show for the funerals of cultural icons who died within a day of each other this week, author Jean d’Ormesson and Johnny Hallyday. Said the FT, “Johnny Hallyday’s death, a day after d’Ormesson’s, comes at a time when French society is a bit disorientated. France has a hard time projecting itself and is in search of meaning. Both men were cultural compasses. There’s a widespread feeling of loss.” As for Germany, get your s*** together. New Zealand formed a coalition in 19 days. Germany is heading into 100 days without resolution.

6. Catastrophic natural disasters will put even more pressure on global insurance markets. (Give to Puerto Rico).

7. New regulations will emerge as scrutiny of the US Internet giants’ power and autonomy reaches a fever pitch. (KR note: beware weapons of mass distraction).

8. Rapidly rising demand for electric vehicles will spark a spike in global sales. (KR note: Um, I have a Maserati, a Jaguar and a Land Rover in different garages in the world; driver’s cars).

9. Chinese foreign investment will accelerate but will face growing resistance. (KR note: I gave a speech in Shanghai in 1998 titled “Brand China;” worth a re-read).

10. Breakthroughs in cancer treatments will accelerate at an unprecedented rate.” (KR note: Too late for my first love Barbara. But not too late for others).

My Team


The Financial Times have just published an extensive mumbo-jumbo piece on my team Manchester City, “the ‘Disneyfication’ of football.” It is a tenet of peak performance that in order to win, you have to always be “in contention.”
Amidst the financial analysis of Man City – “decades in the shadows” of ManU, and “noisy neighbors” according to Alex Ferguson – under its owner since 2008, Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi and his sprawling City Football Group encompassing the UK. Australia, Japan, Spain and Uruguay, and evaluating takeovers in China, India and Southeast Asia, asserted by the FT’s of being “designed to exert Emirati soft power” - the truth lies in the team’s control of the ball and the ability to break through the defenses.
Man City’s unbeaten run - now 11 points clear in the Premier League - under Pep Guardiola is attributed to it ability to string together passes better than any other side in Europe, using possession to good effect: they reach the attacking third of the pitch more often than almost anyone else.” In the sequences of 20+ consecutive passes per game, Man City is without peer in 2017.

Lesson: “Always be in contention.”

Friday, December 8, 2017

Flashback Friday: Desert Island Discs: My All Time Top Ten Tunes


DECEMBER 6, 2007

Thanks to Steve Jobs, we no longer have to concern ourselves with taking 10 songs to our desert island. Now, if we feel like it, we can take 10,000. But don’t panic, here are my all-time Top 10 best songs.

10. No Surrender
The Boss plays this fast, he plays it slow, and no matter what the tempo, it still rings true. “I learned more from a 3-minute record than I ever learned in school.” There is also a great line along the lines of “these romantic dreams in our heads”. I love the 'No Surrender' attitude. It’s not too far away from Saatchi & Saatchi’s 'Nothing is Impossible'. This will always be a Top 10 song for me.

9. You Still Believe in Me
From the great Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds album. I’ve seen Brian Wilson at the Roxy in LA and my son, Ben, and a couple of his mates went to see him last month in London. There he was belting out songs from the Pet Sounds album and a medley of Beach Boys greats. Wilson has lived the hard life of an artist, but there is no doubt that some of his writing and arranging will last forever. 'You Still Believe in Me' is a beautiful little song and always reminds me of the many people that have believed in me during my ups and downs.

8. Celluloid Heroes
A song by one of the world’s greatest storytellers, Ray Davies. The front man for The Kinks is still going strong with a new album currently out, but his heyday was in the 60’s and early 70’s. That was when he captured that very English spirit of Bulldogs and Union Jacks in a way no one else ever did. Ray Davies wrote some of the great songs of that era, including 'Well Respected Man', and 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion', which were sound bites for the Carnaby Street of 1967. 'Celluloid Heroes' broke into my consciousness before I had ever been to the US; it made me want to visit Hollywood right there and then. “Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star.” You could put me down for dreamer.

7. A Whiter Shade of Pale
At the Oscars a few years back, I was at an after party and bumped into the lead singer of Procol Harum. 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' must be one of the most loved and most difficult to understand set of lyrics the world has ever been given. It’s one of the defining songs of the 60’s and recently has been the subject of a bitter lawsuit between two of the members of Procol Harum. Almost everybody from that generation can sing the first verse, particularly late in the evening after a couple of bottle of Bordeaux with a bunch of mates. And I can still skip the light fandango.

6. Fairytale of New York
'Fairytale of New York' starred The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. She was tragically killed in a water ski/swimming accident but was a terrific talent. From Croydon to Cuba: An Anthology is a must own. The video showing McColl singing with The Pogues is an experience second to none. Living in New York as I do, this song represents a fairytale story for all the immigrants who hitched up and made their homes in this most vibrant of cities.

5. Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
How do you represent Bob Dylan in a Top 10 list? My mate, Brian Sweeney, swears by 'Joker Man'. For me, I’ve always loved 'Forever Young', 'Mr. Tambourine Man', 'The Times They Are A Changing', 'Positively 4th Street', 'Desolation Row', 'Tangled Up in Blue' and so many others. One of the great Dylan stories is 'Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts'. I must have half a dozen versions of this on my iPod, ranging from Joan Baez to Tom Russell, with the crème de la crème being an impromptu jam version by Mary Lee’s Corvette. But this is more than a great song, it’s also a movie. Russell Crowe as the Jack of Hearts (now that he’s earned his chops in 3:10 to Yuma, we’ll let him play the good guy), Uma Thurman as Lily, Nicole Kidman as Rosemary, and Al Pacino as Big Jim (personality, not size). There are 17 verses and I’m still waiting for the sequel.

4. Bird on the Wire
Leonard Cohen was instrumental in shaping my youth. It was very fashionable back then at Bohemian dinner parties (and if that isn’t an oxymoron, what is?) to play Leonard’s first 3 albums. I went to see him countless times, bought all his poetry and sucked up his artistic suffering. When I die, I’ve instructed for the words “I have tried in my way to be free” to be inscribed on my tombstone. It comes from perhaps Leonard’s magnum opus 'Bird on the Wire'.

3. In Spite of Ourselves
Time for a love song - but a fresh, realistic, humorous love song. Try John Prine’s 'In Spite of Ourselves'. He wrote a whole album about relationships and duetted with many top female singers. It’s also the subject of a great music video concert he gave at West 54th Street, and you’ve just got to listen to the words of this song. If it doesn’t have you grinning, you’re just not country. And, as a bonus, the wonderful Iris DeMent joins in.

2. The Road Goes On Forever
If you’ve ever been to hear Robert Earl Keen live, you’ll know that everyone there knows all the words to all the songs. The one they really belt out, their Shiner Bocks in hand, is 'The Road Goes On Forever'. It is a classic romance song that should also be made into a movie. It is the story of Sunny, his girl, chivalry, loyalty, impetuosity and pragmatic reality. A great tale, a great idea, and alone is worth a trip to hear Robert Earl Keen. "The road goes on forever and the party never ends."

1. Thunder Road
At number one, leaving off where we came in, is another song from Bruce - 'Thunder Road'. He sings it at different tempos and at different times, and I’ve probably got 20-25 versions of it. I never tire of 'Thunder Road'. It fills me with energy and enthusiasm for the day ahead.

Let me have your Top 10.

The Crazy Idea Process

Physicist Isador Isaac Rabi, who won the Nobel Prize is said to have said:

“My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference— asking good questions— made me become a scientist!’’

Asking good questions is one part of the creative process at Google X (Alphabet’s moon shot factory, which searches for the next big idea).

X’s creative process was recently traversed in a probing article in the November edition of The Atlantic: Google X and the Science of Radical Creativity.

The long and the short of X’s approach as explored by The Atlantic:
  • Address a huge problem, suggest a radical solution, take a feasible path
  • Start with the right questions, not with brainstorming smart answers
  • Invest in both invention and innovation (an innovation is an invention made commercial) i.e. develop an end-to-end process of question / create / discover / produce 
  • Evaluate ideas rapidly (panels of creators who are also judges). Eliminate if the right balance of audacity and achievability is not there – and have failure bonuses for people who shut down weak projects! 
  • Build a culture with ‘psychological safety,’ celebrating high-risk experimentation, rewarding fast failure, and sharing stories of success / failure. 
X exists to ‘solve huge problems and to build the next Google.’ The fruits of X are still to be seen and The Atlantic questions the value of moon shots versus “the modest innovations that typically produce the most-valuable products.”

I look at it this way: innovation flows from creativity (visa-versa to a much lesser degree), and the best way to get a big idea is to have lots of small ideas and to fail fast, learn fast, fix fast. The crazies with the crazy ideas will create the greatest leaps, and organisations like X with the ambition and pockets to go from 0 to 100 are to be roared on. Go X.   

(As an aside, when I was at Saatchi & Saatchi we acquired a shopper marketing company called Thompson Murray in Northwest Arkansas to service our consumer packaged goods clients. We were agreed that the company was to be rebranded to become part of the Saatchi & Saatchi family. But what to call it? I remember arriving at the airport in Bentonville, and when collecting my bag I saw the airport identifier on the carousel. XNA. The company became Saatchi & Saatchi X. From the latest look, they continue to do cutting edge work in the shopper marketing space.)

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Power of Music

I love music. Music can offer an escape, can drum up memories from the past and can be a great inspiration. It’s the soundtrack of our lives. There’s just something really special about it that almost everyone can relate to. That said there’s one setting where music divides people – the office.

Listening to music while you work can be the best or the worst – depending on whom you ask. In an office there’s always at least one person who can’t stand working while music is playing in the background. That can be a problem – especially in the world of open-plan offices. Pondering that problem I looked at some studies related to music and productivity.

Behavioral scientists and management experts have found that listening to music at work can increase productivity. And that’s not all. It also has been proven to improve workplace cultures and upbeat music can increase co-operation between team members. Project management expert Colin Ellis makes an interesting point. Apparently even people who are against music in the workplace, “get in the swing of it” after three weeks or so. Another positive - upbeat music can increase co-operation between team members. The positive effects music can have on people working are vast. Yet I would guess that most offices are not playing music.

One of the most common counter arguments is the claim that people can’t concentrate when music is playing in the background. Whether or not that’s true might differ from person to person, but studies suggest that people are in fact capable of concentrating with background music as we still focus on the most valuable information when we multitask. I agree. (Am listening to Colter Wall's new album as I write this).

In an article in The Harvard Business Review best-selling author and Associate Professor of Leadership and Innovation at Oral Roberts University David Burkus, writes about the fact that many people can’t concentrate when it’s too silent either. It’s why many people prefer working in coffee shops or shared work spaces. It’s all about the right level of background noise.

The solution many people come up with is to wear headphones in the office – either to listen to music, others to drown out the noise of others working around them. But that creates another set of problems as headphones can be a barrier to collaboration. Agreed.

I’m a believer in the power of music. I think that music can actually make you more creative. The solution for the office lies in the set-up of workspaces. There needs to be a space people can access if they want to work in silence and maybe even more importantly without interruption.

The image is one of the most famous advertising visuals from the 1970s - Maxell's Chair Man - see a great backgrounder here.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Manchester Masterclass



Manchester is Britain's great second city. It is to London what Chicago is to New York. It's home of my team Manchester City, and site of a great university, Manchester Met - just crowned the coolest  university in the UK by Liberty Living. I've loved teaching at UK universities - Lancaster, Cambridge and Oxford, and now Manchester Met. They have a terrific Masters of Sport Directorship (MSD) program, I'm there next week on December 6 giving a masterclass "Leadership Challenges in a VUCA World," and back on March 7, 2018 for the Sports Directors Conference. Check out the promo video above and here for a reprise of my 2015 visit. @mmu_business