Monday, 17 December 2012

No such thing as perfect

Type in ‘perfect Christmas gift’ in a search engine and see what happens.  I got 397,000,000 results…

I also saw a dozen or so ads on the way in to London all claiming to be ‘the perfect gift’. These included the BBC’s Olympic Ceremony DVD (really? the perfect gift?) who’d want to sit through 7 hours+ of people standing around waving flags? And what then, if bought, would I buy next year? Surely I have topped out there!

Made me think that perfect is an overused word. Perfect should be used for the ‘one thing’ that is deserving of the title. With so much perfection on offer, I now can’t distinguish between the good stuff and the not so good – let alone the ‘perfect’.

Perfect is one of those words that have lost its meaning; right up there with professional, rigorous and dependable.

I’ve mentioned this before but on this occasion, my thoughts aren’t about focusing on the ‘perfect’ and asking what makes it so, but on the other material that sets up the context and conditions for perfect to exist.

When it comes to matters of design, transfer, innovation, creative thinking and adult learning – all inheriting rules and disciplines – there is a great deal of material to consider before anything can be said to be perfect.

My advice – ignore perfect. It’s a myth.

Instead, embrace different, better, unusual, anti, shocking, hyper, stimulating or real.

Miles Davis famously spoke of playing the notes that weren’t there. I think there’s a great deal of wisdom in that thinking. If perfect is now available in 390+million forms at Christmas, there must be a great deal of stuff were missing…

Friday, 7 December 2012

Branding is a choice. Why then, if it's so obvious do people still find it hard to do?

I’ve just spent 2 days in Istanbul delivering speeches and workshop sessions on brand storytelling at this year’s Middle East Marketing Conference. A brilliant show and huge kudos to my fellow speakers.

Someone mentioned something to me before I stepped on stage.. [something like] “great shirt, you must be creative”. I thought little of it at the time but I knew there was something in that comment that said so much more about the way we perceive the world and as a result, do business.

Branding is a choice.

A brand is built on a thousand actions.

A brand owns a specific and unique place in our head – nothing else has the authority or authenticity to do so.

Hence you and I will spend more for a jacket with a Nike tick on it over the same top from Tescos. All this we know.

The same is for business.

I had a choice when I started this business. I could call myself ‘Founding Director’ and have printed cards and an email sign off to say so.  But I stand for something far more ambitious and exciting than reassuring professionalism.

We exist to help people solve the worlds problems.

How we do it is combining adult learning and design thinking to make visual workshop experiences.

What we do is facilitate leadership workshops and projects.

There’s a great deal of creative lubrication to make this happen and one way to help build that brand is through what we say, how we say it, what we wear and how we wear it and what we write and how we write it. So my shirt was a conscious choice as every moment I’m consciously building a brand (or at least doing my best to do so).

So thinking back, I guess I’ve heard the ‘colourful shirt = colourful mind’ arguments a lot.

I guess I am part of the crowd who are all building creative brands in the same way as me. We’ve all made choices to do so. Oddly enough, I’ve never known anyone in a colourful shirt to point at a guy in a suit and say the OPPOSITE. I’ve never heard anyone in my line of business say that people who wear suits made little choice to do so. In fact they spend a great of money on some of them as do I my shirts.  Suits are an extension of personal brand. NOT of or for the non-creative, the dull, the boring, the risk averse and the cynical.  Yet folk like that (often ‘branding experts’) are quick to tell me a great deal about how I appear to them.

And in so doing THIER brand is built by THAT action.

It would appear then, something so obvious is sometimes very hard to do.
Even by those who are quick to tell us we have nothing to offer them.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

thoughts from Dubai...

We're in Dubai this week.

 I share with you a few thoughts based on a humble parking bay space...

Here is a parking space at Emirates Airlines HQ. It's for the Chairman and Chief of the group; who isn't in.

Now it could be he got helicoptered onto the roof or more likely driven to work in a Lexus for an early meeting, but there is nothing in the environment outside or inside the building to say that such is the case. The environment outside the building however suggests that he isn't about. Given that most people will pass this bay on their way into the main entrance, this has huge implications.

Like many organisations that are large and growing, there is ambition to connect the outside messages and brand to the inside culture and communication.  Folk talk about stitching together and aligning and joining up the parts etc.

For me, programmes like this live or die on the investment given to all employees. If you invest in your employees, they will, unconsciously and often spontaneously arrive at new thinking, creative insight and behaviour that not only benefits all those around them, but also translates to the wider populations of customers and consumers alike. fact.

If culture is 'how we are around here", then that is lead by those at the top. All this is obvious and straightforward; and often forgotten.

Having parking bays, corner offices, separate lifts and so on creates a different set of behaviours within those who make use of them and those who do not. At the hidden level, this undermines any culture change programmes or at the very least creates a set of road blocks in making them happen successfully.
There was once a conscious decision - maybe even a series of long meetings with PowerPoint and flip charts! - to discuss the layout, size and position of the Chairman's car parking space. Eventually, some poor noddy in 40 degree heat had to lay the slabs of stone and cement set a sign that says 'Big Top Dog goes here'. As soon as the concrete set around that sign, so too was the message "you're not as important as this person", along with "in fact, we'll put special attention to this type of person and not you, so you'll have to work out how important you are in the scheme of things".

The trouble with this type of message is that it's hard for a.n.other member of staff to work out his or her place in the fabric of the building. It's clear where the head honcho goes, but what about me? Where is my investment and how will I be recognised for it?
All sitting at an unconscious level, these fears will drive behaviour and action.
Your internal comms can spray and pray as much messaging as they like, but as long as there is a parking space for the boss outside, words land on deaf ears.

Better it would be - I believe, that everyone fought over the same parking spaces. That way I know that amongst all the cars in the staff plot, there might be the boss's. Indeed, it might be the one I've just parked next to.  At the same human level he and I are the same. We went to work along the same road and saw the same world as I did and now we're in the same building facing the same challenges - together as equals.

I get that the leaders need to run a business and they have different pressures, but no pressure is any less or more important that anyone else.

By having an empty space, whether the guy is in the building or not, there will always be those who think they are working alone, without support and in a done to fashion. The trouble with our imagination is what ever is perceived to be true - becomes so in the power of the mind.

A little thing makes a big difference.

Just my opinion. I might be wrong...

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Platitude plus points...

A golden rule of marketing one of my ex-bosses taught me was avoid platitudes and clichés in your advertising.  With a warming smile I saw this add currently hanging at Twickenham station.

"we mean business" is a classic platitude and the visual does nothing for the product benefits either.

But it still got me thinking about the positives.

Clichés and platitudes become so as they are used so often right? and....?

Granted I have grown a little tired of seeing images on proposals and documents featuring light bulbs, handshakes and my favourite; plant shoots growing out of cupped hands of soil. But aren't these images used often as they capture the exact metaphor you want to use?  What's the issue? For some this kind of creative is exactly the safe and steady paid of hands (see what I did there) some business need.
I remember being briefed to create 'something new and different' and on returning the feedback was 'oh, but not that new and different'.  Had I opted for a "we mean business" approach, perhaps the outcome would be different.

That's the magic of a creative brief. No idea is any less imaginative to the client than the next submission from the agency.  We'd go along way if we stopped over giving and tweaked just a little of the edges (bugger, done it again!).

Happy analogies and as I was coached once "think about your pitch as the opportunity to create mediocrity and succeed in style."

Friday, 9 November 2012

Advice for Heads of L+D and those with 'culture change' in their title...

I’m observing a trend in L+D and culture change programmes (and particularly in those who manage and make decisions around them) a staggering assumption that if something is ‘delivered’ then it is ‘learned’.
Let’s just take a few examples – as real as I can make them to suggest that this is wrong. Keep in mind, as was famously said once, that intelligence is to hold in one’s head two opposing sides of one argument simultaneously.
It says on the side of cigarette packets that THEY KILL YOU. People still smoke.
It says 30 on road signs.  We all speed. All of us.
I’m told to be healthy I should eat 5 portions of furit/veg a day  – you haven’t done that either have you...
It’s told in schools and addressed in magazines, t.v., the web and almost everywhere apart from an Ann Summers shop (there’s an idea) to have safe sex – the UK has year on year an ever increasing percentage of underage pregnancy and rising STD’s in young people.
Got the hang of it? You’ve probably thought of a few real examples yourself.

These are examples of broadcasting messages. It’s evidence of ‘delivered = known’ thinking; something that has kept internal comms people busy at the photocopier for years.
BUT what is broadcast isn’t learned.
Learning doesn't follow stimulus response. It's not a linear process.
L+D and culture change is sometimes seen as something that is ‘done to’ people ‘in business’ by ‘managers'. But Adult Learning doesn’t work like that.
If you wish to encourage a particular kind of behaviour over another (the root of culture change) then, it’s necessary to discover and highlight the cues that lead to the behaviour in question. It’s incumbent for L+D and Culture folk to arrange situations in the design of their programmes (and wider context at work) so that the desired behaviour occurs when those cues are present. Even better if the undesired behaviour doesn’t occur along with supporting feedback when those cues are present too.
At school this is all under the skilful use of reward and punishment. Something that ‘teaching’ professionals should do well and consciously. business would do a lot to learn from this.
In summary: In the context of the professional environment, an adult doesn’t learn what he was taught on a workshop, training or from a manual. He learns only what that workshop, lecture or manual got him to do.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Bond. Lotus. Build it and they will come.

The new Bond film came out the other week – I’m yet to see it so don’t spoil the surprise.
Being a Bond fan, I flicked through some of the Bond coffee table books I have lying around the house to get in the mood. I'm also a Lotus fan and I spotted the genius story of Don McLaughlan the head of PR at Lotus who had heard Eon productions were in pre-production of the new Bond Film the Spy Who Loved me.  Don realised that every car company would give its back teeth to have its product become a hero gadget laden car in the world's largest move franchise.
He also knew that such an opportunity came with a real problem in how to get the film maker’s attention.

It’s a well documented tale that don invested £18k in driving a pre production vehicle to Pinewood, taping up the lotus badges and leaving it outside the main office until the Producers and Director all started to take notice of it. Don (apparently) nonchalantly stepped passed and casually unlocked the car and drove away. Whether some of this story is lost in poetic hearsay and pub banter is up for debate, but the car was driven to Pinewood and the gamble paid off.
The rest is history and Bond drove one of the most temperamental sports cars of all time.
The story finds itself here as it’s a great example of how many problems come with inherited rules around they could be solved. When breaking a few of the assumptions, creative opportunities thus appear. In this instance, it wasn’t a case of how to get the Lotus car to the movie people, but asking how could the movie people come to the Lotus car...

Friday, 26 October 2012

One step closer to the motor cycle ash tray...

In 1850, we held a Great Exhibition.  Historians go on that it was a big deal. Far from it.  Nothing showed the rest of the world how badly we misunderstood design than a greenhouse in Hyde Park full of shit. Social designers laughed at our purposely made decoration and from that point on the adage of 'form follows function' became a core aspect of good design lectures.
It would appear 150ish years later, we break the rules at last!

Saw this jacket in a shop this week.  Reflective Camouflage.  I’m trying to work out what part gets compromised.
Is it the reflective part and in wearing the jacket on a dark night along a stretch of highway, you’re feeling safe in the knowledge that the surface reflects the headlights of an oncoming truck OR is it the camouflage which, had it not been for it’s easy-to-spot qualities, this jacket would be standard issue for all Navy Seals...
Black ring necked, ipad holding, latte drinking south banker designer types take note: a good idea, it appears, need not obey the rule form to follow funtion.  This jacket is just over £700.00.  If you want one, follow the link: 
have a good weekend - it gets dark soon.

Friday, 19 October 2012

STOP using Apple as an example of innovation - BORING!!!!!!!

Can we STOP using Apple, Steve Jobs or Google as examples of great business and leaders and think of something more original please.

I have lost count of the number of times those companies and that individual has been cited in presentations.
It’s now got to the point that if unfortunately someone is presenting to me and one of the two subjects I’ve just mentioned come up, I tend to just drift off and think about something else.
Especially when people quote SJ or his philosophy – like they met at a dinner party once...
If I were interviewing folk for a job and asked them to give examples of creative companies or innovative products and they mentioned Apple or an ipod, I wouldn’t give them a job. I’d show them the door.
Citing Apple shows:
Lack of imagination and research on your part. Has there been nothing in the last few decades that isn’t as astonishing, clever, brutal, brilliant, or elegant as that company?
Laziness. No-one’s going to disagree with your point of view as you’ve plenty of advocates to support your observations and opinion. In fact some witty journalist has done all the hard work for you, all you need do is take a screen shot and a quote and away you go.
Lack of creative thinking. If innovation is all about technical stuff – fine, there’s more to life than battery powered handhelds... if innovation is about commercial profit, think laterally people! Consider the utter genius who put ‘rinse and repeat’ on the side of a shampoo bottle and doubled sales over night without changing product, packaging, production line or distribution channels. How about the guy who took the second strike strip off the Bryant and May matchbox and reduced the cost of box production and thus increased profitability. that ain't neat?
A very limited ability to synthesise material. Say you work in plastics manufacture, pharmaceutical or logistics. You’ve a tough job right? You’ve enough on your plate to manage. Then your boss (or a latte drinking consultant in jeans – like me) turns up and says “we need to think a bit more like google around here. I’ve got some stories...” please!
Don’t try and be any other business but your own.
Do it brilliantly and love what you do and THAT will be the thing that your customers and clients love about you.
Disagree and think I’m talking bunk – good for you. Join the masses who talk a good game and focus on definitions and descriptions.
Meanwhile the team and I will continue to have ideas with our clients.
That’s what we do and there’s no pictures or posters of Steve Jobs on our wall when we do it.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Kylie Minogue and the genius of lost time.

There is a rumour/urban myth within the music industry (and I’ve checked on this with the folk I know in said circles) that Kylie Minogue’s  first UK hit “I should be so lucky” was written very fast – we’re talking somewhere between 10 to 30mins...
The story goes that Stock, Aitken + Waterman, had completely forgotten about Kylie’s first visit to the UK and on arrival at their studio, she sat in their foyer whilst they quickly dug out the keyboards and the sampling machine and threw together the song. Kylie admits herself that coming from the world of t.v., she treated the lyrics like a script and sang into the mike as directed. The song was recorded in a few takes and off she flew from Heathrow at the end of the day. It happened that fast.
I love the story. I know you’ll have a few anecdotes yourself.
Learning here is this: Having little time IS NOT an issue when it comes to solving problems; it can sometimes be a blessing.
When time is tight your brain doesn’t move any faster. It’s always moving fast.  Normally however you’ve got time to consciously judge stuff. When time is tight, there is no room for conscious processing; that’ll waste what moments you do have. It’s time to relax and allow your subconscious processing to surface. All the time it’s moving super fast and making decisions without your awareness. It knows EXACTLY what’s’ going on. It’s the greatest resource you have so the trick is to allow it to show you...
Let’s look at Kylie’s song. Stock, Aitken + Waterman had written songs by the dozen. They had a strong back catalogue of successes and thousands of hours between them crafting lyrics and melodies. The collective and individual power of their mind when it came to ‘writing a song’ was without question. Whether you like their style isn’t the issue here. They could write and had got something that worked for them just as well as Lennon and McCartney – it was just on this occasion they cut out the crap and nailed a song in 20mins.
Time is always going to pass. So it’s up to you on how you feel about it.
“Not having enough time” is a judgement. It programmes your brain into thinking about what it can’t do. And guess what -  you can’t do it!
Try “we’ve got this amount of time and let’s make the best of it”. It’s a simple shift in perspective but it’s worth keeping in mind. A shorter amount of time gets your subconscious surfacing and as a result you:
·         Cut out the crap – you’ll go for what matters. They’ll be lots of that 80/20 rule kicking in but you’ll also experience genius moments of insight and idea creation as your subconscious brings forth the wonderment of your mind in seconds rather than hours.
·         You’ll make decisions better – see above
·         You’ll experiment better and try things out for the first time. Let’s face it, if there isn’t enough time for the ‘normal’ way of doing things, then a new approach will have more of a chance. For example – ever thought about NOT typing up a proposal and simply binding your notes together along with all the roughs? Alec Issigonis designed the mini on a napkin –what’s good enough for him...
·         You’ll have way more fun. If you want to kill a project, do it slowly!
Don’t however GIVE YOURSELF less time. An engineered false deadline isn’t the same energetically as having a real deadline. I’ve seen lots of bad advice being given framed as ‘create a sense of urgency’ to get the best out of people.  Seriously, don’t do that.
I write this with a few important pitches to prepare for the next few weeks. Only I haven’t that luxury of time as I’m committed to other projects. Thus my weekend and evenings are the only time I have – so I take all of my own advice.
I also remind myself to have fun with it.
So you do the same when the ‘time’ issue comes up again.
Sorry it was a long blog.
I hadn’t time for a shorter one.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

the trouble with Einstein...

Einstein said:
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

I love this quote as it neatly sums up a three day workshop on having ideas. That all said, reading the quote doesn’t give you the capability to execute its message.  Only trial and error, reflection, feedback will grow your confidence to do so time and again.

3 days out of the office won’t necessarily tick all the boxes.

But then we don’t need 3 days either.

The best learning is visceral. That’s why I remember the wise words from Grandparents and favorite teachers etc. they stuck with me and made a deep emotional connection.

The visceral stuff sticks.  It’s the stuff of ‘Swans break your arms if you get too close”.*

But we can’t design business development to be visceral all the time. It’s okay for intellect to do a great deal of work for us. Intellectually I don’t have to work hard to know that jumping in a bath and then throwing in a electric toaster is perhaps not the best way to start my day. Having said that, if a trainer uses such an example to land a point in the classroom – it’s a creative stretch too far!

Good design comes from finding the right blend of visceral, cerebral and indeed practical. The best practical is the real problem there and then that needs to be challenged.

Send me on a workshop where we solve pretend issues: ill come back with pretend answers. The trouble with quoting Einstein is all his answers are pretend unless we do it ourselves.Only then do we make the connections he did and only then have we truly learned.

*despite decades of scare mongering children along our river banks, there have been no known cases of anyone’s arm ever being broken by a Swan.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Why BIG companies will never, EVER be able to do customer service.

 There is no such thing
Everyone bangs on about a brilliant customer experience but there is no such thing. What works for me (someone talking honestly about what’s going on and being frank but with a decent dose of humour, pace and provocation) isn’t going to work for the next person in the queue. The poor bastard behind the till can’t adopt his style for everyone and match it perfectly as we’re all human beings and as a result, put more than two in a room and they’ll be friction at some point. Concentrate that into short time experiences (buying a dress in a shop you’ll visit once) is not enough to create an intense bond with anything genuine; unless you’re a spiritual healer. Big businesses forget that all their systems involve people. As soon as you call it a process it’s broken.

Companies make the mistake of appointing a head of customer experience
The head of customer experience should be the CEO. If not you’re basically telling the whole business it’s someone else’s responsibility and not yours.

You can’t scale personal sensitivity
We all have an example of our favourite butcher, garage owner, builder, gym instructor etc. He or she goes out of the way to help you, remember your favourite colours, bands, nicknames, where you went on holiday and what you love and hate.  It’s called ‘giving a shit’ and you can’t scale it.

Case studies are not the answer
Anyone who quotes Southwest Airlines as a model of customer service should be yelled at or laughed at for being un-original. There’s little point in trying to scale an outrageous service at BA or Virgin etc. as I’m unlikely to ever fly the same airline to the same destination and meet the same crew again. What I get in return for consistency is the same health and safety briefings (no-one ever listens to) and the same flaccid, insipid half hearted welcome-on-board-to-our-one-world-alliance-and-partners-do-you-want-to-give-to-our-charity-duty-free-complimentary-pilot-talking-shit-about-weather-condtions speech instead.  Have you seen the laminates they have to read out? (often stuck to wall by the toilet door). This says to the employee from the business that they’re not trusted enough to think intuitively and sensitively about the job they do daily and that some over paranoid executive in tight shoes has to tell you what to say...  Occasionally we hero stories of cabin crew saving lives with breadsticks and coat hangers but as an employee, I can’t suffocate my passengers and bring them back to life to show I’m living the values.  As a result, I can only serve tea 1000 times a day and be asked to smile.

You can only train who applies.
No matter what training you provide, laminates you produce, videos you show, you’re only EVER going to be as good as the combination of employee who applies and the HR folk who explain the customer experience/brand promise.  Whilst waiting for a meeting in a London HQ of a retail chain, I overheard ‘HR Madam’ explain to ‘employee Miss’ that she didn’t need to worry about what the customer thinks as it’s just about getting ‘our message across’...  couldn’t help but think she had done just that perfectly.

Businesses forget that customers, partners, agencies and clients are equals not supplicants.
I was asked by the Head of Customer experience of a large international organisation to prepare some thinking on what the future of that business could look like.  How flattered and delighted I thought. Instead of sending in PowerPoints and emails, our business takes time on bespoke responses and physical material to provoke the discussions. It’s part of our brand. It’s part of our promise. It’s evidence that we deliver genius.  All this costs time, money and effort. BUT it’s what we want to do and live for so off we went.
You can imagine how we feel when we receive NOTHING in reply. Not a single acknowledgement.  Personally, I’d prefer “thanks Andy, but your thinking sucks” as it completes the conversation and I know where we stand. We didn’t get anything. Not a jot. Not a text. Not an email. Not even a ‘got it’ message. Nada. Zilch.
And now I’m telling the whole world about it J
Right now you’re reading a passive aggressive paragraph about someone who for whatever reason has forgot that being the Head of Customer Experience creates and expectation. If s/he can’t keep that context in mind and wont respond, what hope is there for the rest of the employees and business? I'd suggest NONE!
Think also about the international lens on this business (and it is an international business). I smile inside about the whole thing but if this were China – s/he’s PROPERLY insulted me and risked the loss of the relationship. To think these senior people are invested in too is the additional sadness as its evidence again that learning transfer happens less the higher the manager you become.

A customer experience is inevitable whether I like it or not and the more you remind your staff on what to do and how to do it, the worse things get.
Not being looked at in the eye by the cashier at Zara is inevitable if the cashier is made to feel the customer is always right. Employees are the most important part of the business. If they are given the freedom, responsibility, and belief from the higher ups that they can be themselves and as a result – as by product of good intentions - help others, then the business will flourish.  Managers who think otherwise, just take it away.

Having said all that – I missed an appointment today.
BAD CUSTOMER EXERIENCE! Caused by me. 100% my fault. No-one else’s.
I’m off right now to make amends.
Now, you go do the same.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Ignore the obvious at your (and clients') peril.

Too many project proposals left agencies this week that over complicated the client issue and sold them something they didn't need. Sometimes the obvious gives us the answer.
Lot’s of the time we jump to an answer and then dismiss it simply because we’ve arrived at it too quickly.  It’s as if we don’t trust our own judgement or creative powers in a short time.

We ought to re-consider this.
Our unconscious brain is processing material faster than we realise (hence it’s NOT conscious). The under currents of our fast flowing mind can indeed short cut a great deal of distraction and hard work.
Consider this story an old college tutor passed on to us years ago...

In the late 80’s the University Sports dept opened up a gym with clever machines to measure heart rates and respirations.  You can imagine large beige BBC computers and dot matrix printers buzzing and humming whilst professors and psychologists tip toed over the wires and running machines plotting graphs as the students ran new personal bests.
One evening the dept opened up its new physio-lab to the greater good of the community and held a wine’n’cheese style evening. Junior students would serve the cava whilst ‘clever’ academic folk and ‘specialists’ in athletic performance would take other faculty heads around the facilities.
Both male and female students were jogging on the machines and it was noticed that the female chest/expansion/heart rate/oxygen-capacity/pulse/thingy graph had flat lined whilst the male graph continued to rise.  Both students were clearly working hard, but it was interpreted that the female chest ‘was at ease with itself’ whilst the male athlete struggled.
For an hour or so several theories bounced around the room and formed the start of some dangerous looking research papers that could soon become scientific fact.
Eventually a female undergraduate student who had been serving cheese on sticks all evening suggested that the graph looked different as the girl runner was wearing a sports bra.  Her chest couldn’t expand as much as the bra was doing exactly what it was designed to do.
The bra was removed.
Both graphs read the same.

Sometimes the most sophisticated people and the most sophisticated tools can’t do what we pick up at an intuitive level.
The key is to spot it in ourselves when it happens.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Another reason brainstorming won’t work

 Following my hugely popular encomium on the myth of brainstorming, I’m following up with another dear reader.
One of the inherited rules of a brainstorm, is the expectation you’ll arrive at ‘the answer’ having been handed out bags of toys, marker pens, post-it notes, squeezy balls and water pistols. After 5 minutes of coaching on how to think ‘big’ and ‘like a child’ you’ll be given the freedom to dick about for an hour or so and arrive at the perfect solution.
You won’t.
There seems to be a fashion with the creative gurus that we were all once like children (cue joke about being born 30 if we weren’t once a child) and that we’ve grown up and out of child like thinking.  Stats (yawn) tell us children smile 1000 times a day and adults but 10 (or whatever it is) and of course let’s not forget the beautiful, ubiquitous and now a little over done TED Talk from Sir Ken Robinson.
I get it.
Now move on.

It’s too simple an argument and without any difference to what other people say.
Actually, kids are brilliant at having thoughts and not ideas.  Granted you don’t have to tell a 6 year old how to play or have fun, make up games and play dragons, fight wizards, draw monsters, imagine castles, pixies and flying fish.
They’d be shit at solving a behaviour change programme for an investment bank though wouldn’t they.
We ask adults to think not like a child, but to adopt the childlike approach of ‘anything is possible’ and ‘without boundaries we can challenge the norms’ etc. I get all that, I really do. I was also a teacher for 7 years so I don’t need the lecture.
What children can’t do is the other way around bit.They can’t think ,like adults my considering all the challenges, rules, regulations, permissions, politics, norms, cultural sensitivities, costs, time constraints and logistics.  They can’t do this as their experience isn’t that of an adult.  Children are brilliant at being children and doing what they do best – having time to think extraordinarily.
The whole we knock creativity out of them piece is wrong, we just layer learning the way it falls over time through a curriculum. The joy of going on a adult learning creative course is we can look back on all that experience and then judge it and turn it on it’s head.
We can’t do that from the start – much to the disappointment of Sir Ken – as it wouldn’t work. You can’t creatively break rules unless you’ve got some rules to break in the first place!
The best help in any problem IS the problem.  It comes with all you need to solve it – if you listen carefully said one ex-boss to me, you’ll hear the answer. Wise words. His business became MORE profitable and successful in the recent recession...
If you’re having a brainstorm. You don’t need the bean bags and fairy lights.
You need the problem.  Explain it, explain it again and again and again.
Then have discussions.
Then allow the thoughts to muse.
Then go home.
Have a bath.
Take some notes and doddle.
Watch Discovery Channel.
Play with some blu tac.
Go to bed and sleep on it and back at work the next morning have another honest discussion about the project.
But don’t’ whatever you do force yourself and the team to solve a crisis in 30mins.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Tell me what TO DO (and not what not to do).

A pre-supposition in the way our brains work is that it ignores negatives. Thus “don’t think of a green elephant” trick becomes an instruction. Consider also all the parents and teachers who scream ‘don’t run!’ at children – who then run around...
As a young teacher, a seasoned colleague of mine observed a lesson and gave me brilliant advice I still keep in mind to this day; show the kids what you want from them when demonstrating a practical task rather than say (and then demonstrate perfectly) all the things you don’t want them to do. It’s worked every time from demonstrating how to hold a coping saw, making a turn on a ski slope, changing a car tyre and yep – used guessed it, having creative sessions and facilitating conversations in business.
The same advice would go well in urban design.
At the weekend I strolled into town with my kids and passed the Jubilee Fountain. Interestingly enough one short sighted councillor opposed it being built as he thought vandals would urinate in it. Funny how we’ve managed to keep our legs crossed all this time...

The photo shows one of two nasty signs that have been banged into the park that immediately spoil the aesthetics. It says “This ornamental fountain is not designed for public access.  Visitors paddling in the water do so at their own risk”.  SINCE ITS INSTALLATION I have not passed this fountain without seeing children and adults paddling in the water. Signs that ask us NOT to do something are always ignored.
Instead of being all parent child in its communication, the sign could read... “Welcome to the Jubilee Fountain, young children may paddle here freely, have fun and take care”. As a result responsibility to look after ourselves (and urinate appropriately) is passed to us rather than taken away from us.
In our emails, phone calls and advice to others today and this week, be enabling.
you then don’t have to write or explain what you don’t want your staff to then not do*

*sentence to ignore J

Monday, 20 August 2012

There is no such thing as an emergency phone call.

There is no such thing as an emergency phone call

People’s reactions and loss of context is the most dangerous form of corporate rot. Leaving the room “for an emergency” is just rude. If your sponsor says “we cannot legislate for emergencies” it's giving permission for rudeness to happen.

What they're actually saying is the senior development of emerging talent and the back office design and delivery programmes around them (you and your team) and facilitators (like you) in the room, peers and colleagues isn’t and aren’t important and will always come second to the money.

Having people ‘take an emergency call’ and step outside destroys your businesses values instantly because the ‘commercial card’ becomes trump. If that's the single filter that trumps all decisions - dont have values.

When calls come in, participants have a brilliant opportunity to grow through making a choice.

Put another way – every time they leave the room to take an emergency call on cost saving, they've wasted all the L+D budget spent on them being in that room in an instant.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Don't give people case studies.

Was part of an agency conversation the other day that went something like this...

"...and then we'll give them [the client] loads of material from great places like Google and IKEA and then it'll inspire them to design properly worked out customer service."

no it won't.

Giving people stimulus in the case study fashion can be a bit of a red herring.

Making connections between what one company does and yours requires creative sensitivity. Without that, there will be no idea generation. Creative sensitivity should be ever present and worn at the weekend just as it is 9-5 at our desks.

It would show up when said client is shopping at IKEA on any given day. And whilst choosing a fish shaped purple desk lamp s/he has an epiphany (albeit now a regular thing) and get’s out a notepad (s/he carries at all times) as s/he thinks to herself “my God, this shopping day I am having is so out of this world I can see the tangible, physical and deliberate customer experience touch points IKEA has seamlessly interwoven into my morning and I can’t help but make notes on all this right now for my project at work.”

If our clients could do that, then they wouldn’t need us now would they! Because they don't think like that, it suggests that stimulus alone isn't enough.

A little part of me dies when I think of another mood board is stuck up in the room in the hope it’ll “inspire” some thinking.

Don’t give your clients downloads off the web of IKEA, Google and Apple (zzzzzzz) as we’ve never worked there.

Get your clients to do instead THEIR OWN case study and have other companies talk about them. Genius.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

GOLD MEDALISTS not for after dinner speaking...

This week was, for me, the best sport on tv ever. It was utterly brilliant and genius to watch the Athletes bring in so much gold.  Well done. I’m really proud to be British and gutted I didn’t get any tickets to watch it live.

A dark place...
I’ve also considered how the winners and the teams behind them will all be invited by corporate juggernauts and business behemoths to speak at company events and road shows to pass on their learning. Top executives will pay thousands of pounds each to sit at top tables with the Design Teams and Management Teams of winning Gold Medallists.
CEOs, FDs, Executive Board members will all name drop feverishly months and years from now on the night they had the privilege to hear and ‘learn’ how to get the best from the best.
And nothing of course will change.
That’s the difference between the two worlds and why they shouldn’t mix.
Quangos made up of lazy thinking members from HR, L+D and Internal Comms will think that global businesses culture, values and winning spirit could be solved in an after dinner speaking slot lasting an hour.
An OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST is the ONE PERSON ON PLANET EARTH who knows the true meaning of working hard to get performance right.

If I ever get the chance to listen to any member of the British Cycling Team, I promise to shut up and listen.
My advice would be to do the same.

Friday, 3 August 2012

visual thinking - beats powerpoints 90 years ago.

Here’s a colour study from Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.  He was a student come teacher at the Bahaus and let’s face it, the owner of quite a cool name.

If you forgive the quality ( I was taking the photo using my phone in the gallery where I wasn’t supposed to), you’ll notice colours in circles all sitting in a pencil grid.
It’s a genius piece of visual thinking and gives me an example of how you can solve problems in pictures.  Moholy-Nagy was working out the curriculum for the Bauhaus and what student groups went where, when, with whom and for how long.  Looking at the piece I noticed he had worked out a smart little 'carrousel' curriculum where all the students got their full exposure to the material, the teachers got variety, the workshops may have avoided bottle necking and everyone knew what was going on at any given moment.
I like this because:
  • It didn’t need a computer (spreadsheets and i-pads werent’ around in 1920).
  • It’s done by hand – suggesting the whole thing happened in one sitting; think of the time he had spare to show off his surname in the village. maybe he did it in th park, down the pub or likely at his desk BUT he didn't have to.
  • We’ve got the whole “I get it” bit all on a single page so other people can understand – something too often we miss at work when our colleagues send us ANOTHER powerpoint with ANOTHER page added at the end.

We’ve a saying here at ‘theBox’  A picture paints a thousand words and stimulates a thousand too.  If I were teaching at the Bauhaus, all I’d need from Laslo at term start would be this sheet and the freedom to get on and teach; precisely what my thousand words would be used for. Utter Genius.

Now, go spend the afternoon DRAWING your problem and see what happens as you then try and solve it.