Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Latest craze - the silent disco

Nothing to do with Leadership. Or perhaps it is? Damn funny, anyway.

The New Auroras -- Adam's new novel

Hi Leaders,

A very brief snapshot from my novel, THE NEW AURORAS.

This is in the words of Lieutenant Herbert "Koz" Kozlowski. From the night he learned he was Koz no longer...becoming known as..CODENAME: TRIPOUT.

It was my wife Beatrix who suspected me all the while. Think she believed I was out there night after night cheating on her. God knows I spent all that time on streets -- if it was me, I would’ve thought the same damn thing.

She followed me that night. One of the biggest drug busts of the century, and she’s down near the docks watching the exchange. Guess it all looked stink. There I was, dressed in a suit and tie, hair slicked back, ready to make the handover, and soon their limo shows.

Out steps their ‘delivery girl.’

I didn’t know whether I wanted to take her or what, but damn those boys are practiced, I’ll tell you. You’ll never get a chance to touch ‘em directly. That takes forever, and with the spate of botched busts that had gone rotten up and down along the Eastern Seaboard, most of the big honchos weren’t going to make a personal appearance and take a chance being left holding the bag. So they’d send out emissaries. People to do their bidding.

And here waltzes out this babe with every possible nip and tuck that can be visited on a body. She’s got an envelope she hands to me, and then stands there, watching for my response.

What happens after this is a total haze. My mind draws a blank, so pardon me, see, if the memories are patchy. Ever since then, so’s been the rest of my life. But the head shrinkers tell me this is good for me, so let’s make ‘em happy, shall we?

Way it looked to me was that Beatrix was getting out of the car to shout a message. Like I said, if I were in her shoes, probably might’ve done the exact same thing. What was contained in that yell -- primal as it was -- probably contained the sum of all the frustrations of a woman who not-so-proudly called herself a ‘cop’s wife.’

Everything went into that.

All her fears, anxieties, and wishes for the future. But her cries were drowned out by the sound of sub-machine gun fire coming from the open windows of the limo. Bullets flying everywhere, those bastards took out their delivery girl. Their primary target was my poor Beattie. Guess they figured the deal was raw, and we were going to pay for it going south. I took two hits somewhere in my shoulder and my chest, they tell me, but I say to you now I don’t feel a thing, would you believe me?

Doubt it.

But I didn’t feel a thing. It was like another part of me took over, like another source of strength was inside me, and was commanding me what to do.

As I remember it -- and lemme tell you this is hurting me just to bring it back to paper -- the first shot did in my Beattie. Most human beings would be hard-pressed to take one in the gut from any sort of gun, but these scumbags were packing some major artillery. I’m seeing her from across the open divide, convulsing, propped up against the wheelbase of our car, choking blood all over her white top, a sopping bloody mess. And suddenly I just make a run for it.

Bullets are flying all around me, but I’m charging in a straight line for Beatrix, oblivious to my surroundings (funny how the Port Authority’s police weren’t alerted to the situation - someone must’ve paid ‘em off to stay the hell away). I’m darting for her, like a madman, but not a single bullet hits me. (Again, this is all in the words of the guy I didn’t waste, so if there are some details missing you understand why.)

Picture this - it’s like time’s slowed down, and you’re seeing everything in super slow-mo. This is what it felt like to me later, when I learned to harness this power. You feel like you can pick the rounds out of the air like almonds, and throw them back in the other direction. That’s the ‘power’ I’m talking about.

My particular power.

So I’m running along, dodging everything, leaping through the air, and I’d be a damned fool if I told you I didn’t make that last huge leap from at least twenty yards out. It carried me clear to Beattie’s car, and I landed hard next to her - but still, scrapes and all, and having lost teeth in the exchange, I’m still not feeling any pain. I’m bleeding heavily from the shoulder as well -- gushing, actually -- But still not feeling an ounce of pain (doctors told me afterward someone who’d sustained my sorts of injuries would’ve blacked out from the first impact. They even called me a ‘freak of nature.’) I put my fingers to Beattie’s neck, or so it was told, but by then she didn’t have a pulse.

I pat my holster to see if my gun’s still with me, but on the mad dash between my car to Beatrix’s I lost it. I scan the horizon, they said, noticed it lying like ten feet from my car, and -- you won’t believe me, still -- but I can make out fine details from a distance of over a hundred feet, and that probably explains why I was able to see it from so far out.

But back to the story.

Meanwhile there’s this huge Lincoln bearing down on me with thunderous speed (I read that police report about two hundred times, so I know it off-by-heart), and from what I’d read, I had about a couple of seconds to jump the hell out of the way.

It was too late.

The limo comes crashing into Beatrix’s car, and the force of her car then hitting me sends me flying through the air.

I come landing on the tarmac with a thud. Wait, though, ‘cause it gets better.

Friday, March 25, 2005

My Western History Odyssey, Part One

I'm coming to the end of an extraordinary literary and visual exodus through 2000 years (or so) of Western history. I thought you might appreciate a mini "Lonely Planet" guide to my trip. It's also my way of debriefing.

It all started last year when I read a book written about my Scottish ancestors who emigrated to New Zealand. So much of it didn't make any sense to me because I had no context. I need to learn more history, I thought. So I read A.H.Reed's The Story of New Zealand, which was rudimentarily good, but still assumed I knew a whole lot of European history, which I didn't. And probably many of my generation don't know, either.

So I took this journey of exploration through the "Western World", with a focus on Britain (which is the spiritual home of the New Zealand culture).

I look at it like a high-speed train trip with several stops along the way. The main journey is very rapid, and you just see the main features of the landscape. Sometimes you get off at a town and get to see things in minute detail, then it's back on the train and zooming into the future again.

My tour guides throughout the whole journey were:

Winston S Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples
Jacques Barzun, Dawn to Decadence
Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand
Simon Schama, A History of Britain (video)

And as I went, I discovered books and videos about particular times, particular people, that for me were like getting off the train and checking out landmarks, while the "big picture" books above were like a high-speed train trip.

In the next post, I'll explore the lightning fast trip from 50BC to 1500AD.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Plane-mad teenager launches Oxbridge air service

Telegraph | News | Plane-mad teenager launches Oxbridge air service

This is just brilliant. He's just 18, but he's followed his passion, and better still, he's found a good business case for what he does. The map in the story shows the lengthy routes cars and trains have to take between Cambridge and Oxford. It's amazing no-one has ever thought of an air service before.

I think this story is amazing because at 18 I had none of that sort of opportunity-spotting ability. Was it just me, or is that ability quite rare in the young?

Monday, March 21, 2005

Managing Creativity

Great article here called: Think You Manage Creativity? Here's Why You're Wrong.

There may be some stuff you've heard before, e.g. 3M's rule about committing 15% of your time to private projects, but there's some other stuff that hadn't struck me in the same way before.

For instance, a quote from William Coyne, former vice president of R&D at 3M: "After you plant a seed in the ground, you don't dig it up every week to see how it is doing."

The article goes on to say that this sounds heretical in an age of customer centricity.

I think this is true, especially in the advertising and marketing industry. Since the early 1990s there has been a push towards measurable, formulaic advertising that's guaranteed to work - or your money back.

I've been a part (albeit a small one) of this push - recommending and giving away the book "Scientific Advertising" on my HowToAdvertise site.

As a business owner, I still agree that advertising should be measurable. But I worry about the pressure on marketers and advertising creatives - because a "Scientific" mindset assumes a controlled, laboratory environment, and today's business world is anything but that.

Also, there's the art. Some fantastic novelists (e.g. Bryce Courtenay) graphic artists (? Andy Warhol? Help me out here) and movie makers (again, I don't know but I'm sure I'm right) have come out of ad agency backgrounds.

What am I saying - that ad agencies should be allowed to continue wasting their clients' money? No. But the discipline of creating marketing and advertising shouldn't be reduced to a paint-by-numbers exercise. That will dry up the talent pool.

How does this relate to putting the seed in the ground? Well ... to clients of ad agencies big and small, I recommend you trust your agency once you've scoped them out initially.

Get to know them - yes, this takes time - and how they work, and when you're satisfied, leave them to it. They are - if they're any good - mad scientists, who need a few dreary nights in the underground lab before they unleash their monsters on the world.

And don't fear failure - as Valerie Walshe said in my cover story for Marketing Mag, the real failure is when you don't learn anything from a campaign gone wrong.

The Oil Curse

For several years I've enjoyed reading Dana Blankenhorn's newsletter,

At first I was just after the neatly phrased tidbits he wrote about internet marketing, but like any great thinker, he goes all over the place and doesn't limit himself to a narrow subject. Perhaps that's not that useful for getting an audience, but I find it very interesting.

His latest newsletter, The Oil Curse, is a very interesting perspective on where wealth and power is at in the world today, and where it should be.

I'm not always sure I totally agree with Dana, but he does get me thinking.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Getting to the root of the problem

In a recent TIME magazine article, economist Jeffrey Sachs describes how extreme global poverty can be eliminated by the year 2025...!!

Interestingly, the U.S. seems to be the biggest culprit when it comes to not giving aide that was promised. To throw some numbers at you, the U.S. government will put $500 billion toward military spending, while only spending $16 million on world-wide poverty.

To wit, the U.S. is basically trying to get rid of a problem by attacking its symptoms (terrorism, for one), and not the root cause of those symptoms -- that being the extreme proverty that causes "global instability."

In a much lighter example, this was something my dad always told me about pulling weeds -- it's never enough to just take off the visible part of the weed, you have to extract its roots, or else it keeps on coming back, time after time.

This seems true in all life, doesn't it? Whether it's in the yard or around the globe, the only way to exact true and lasting change is to attack and solve a problem at its root. The cause, not the symptoms.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Gallipoli and Dig Tree (Book Reviews)

(Better dressed this time)

I've done it again. Reviewed books on video, that is. Watch it here.

If you're time-poor, I reviewed:

The Dig Tree by Sarah Murgatroyd
Gallipoli by Alan Moorehouse

...and learnt some powerful leadership lessons from both these tales of ultimate failure. You'll have to watch the video to find out what those messages were. ;)

PODCAST: Interview with Carolyn Taylor, author, "Walk the Talk"

As I mentioned in my last post, culture can be great or it can make life awful. Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success is a rare book that not only tackles the issue of culture, but gives a roadmap - based on actual experience in many organisations - for cultural change.

I met Carolyn at Auckland's iconic Hilton hotel, almost in the water on Prince's Wharf. I'm still working on the recording technology, so please forgive the slightly 'rough' sound on some parts of this. As always, your feedback is welcome!

Hear the MP3 here:

Thanks to Random House for setting up the interview. Carolyn's culture consultancy is called Mettle.

Powerful words about wealth

This just in from the Roger Hamilton newsletter:

The following was written by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, founder of Yukos and until recently the richest man in Russia. He is currently an inmate of the Matrosskaya Tishina prison in Moscow since his arrest on October 25th 2003 – 17 months ago.

“Yes, over the past year, the $15 billion fortune of which Forbes wrote has almost reached zero, and it will soon become absolute zero. But parting with my wealth will not be unbearably painful for me. I have realized that wealth, and especially vast wealth, does not in itself make a person free. I had to make enormous efforts to protect this wealth. I had to limit myself in everything that might harm this possession. I controlled my possessions; they controlled me.”

“So I would like to warn young people today, those who will soon come to power: Do not envy those who have great wealth. All that is important is you, yourself – your feelings, ideas, talents, will, intellect and faith. This is, indeed, the only possible and correct choice – the choice of freedom.”

“To breathe the spring air, to play with children, to read good books – all this is so much more important, more right and more pleasant than multiplying wealth and settling scores. Now, freed from the burden of the past, I am determined to work for the benefit of those generation that will soon take charge of our country. Generations that will come with new values and new hopes.”

“Wealth isn’t how much money you have.

It’s what you’re left with when you lose all your money.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

That pernicious thing called culture

Mona Lisa Smile tackles some big, important questions about culture. Not just the culture of the 1950s - after all, that's kind of an easy target for us 2005ians, ain't it?

No, it should help us to question our own culture. And the very nature of culture. Look at the world portrayed in Mona Lisa Smile - there's no written rule that says a woman can't be a lawyer, can't stay single till she's 40, can't learn all sorts of things... etc.

There's no written rule, but there are all sorts of constraints on real behaviour, based on "what will people think"?

Of course this factor is still in play today. Less so in countries like New Zealand, Canada, Australia and (I guess) the USA - but there are still strong expectations on what you should be.

Are those expectations bad? No. People in general expect you not to go and kill someone. That's probably a good thing (and it's also good that we've internalised this, too).

Culture is neutral. It can be tremendously evil, as in Hitler's Germany or Mussolini's Italy. It can be simply deathly, as portrayed in The Office ("I'm a motivator!"). Or it can be remarkably positive, like... we need a few great examples!

The key is, realising it's there. Realising that there never will be a society where people can do their own thing completely; that there always is the perception of others to be aware of, and use either to your defeat, or your advantage.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Do not mess with a Scotsman

Mrs. Brown is a touching tale of the relationship between Queen Victoria and her servant John Brown, the one man on her staff who cared for the person of Victoria, rather than her power.

At least, that's how he looked at things. And in believing that, he probably paved the path for his early demise.

See, his aim was great - to "see her safe". But his lack of people skills and inability to compromise made him a target for the jealousy and suspicion of other staff, not to mention the gossip-hungry public.

I don't suppose you could expect any different from a Highlander who's trained to be unswervingly loyal, and that's that. (I can make that sort of racial slur - I'm descended from Highland scots and had to learn the dark arts of compromise from my lowland ancestors).

Mrs. Brown is a really nice story, but also a sad look at what happens when we try to do everything ourselves. Strange as it seems, John Brown's character reminds me of a superhero - only he didn't have superpowers. He just had a super syndrome, and it killed him. And nobody cared except Victoria.

Monday, March 14, 2005

We have found the enemy and he is us

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. That's the message I got very strongly after watching two of the greatest movies ever made: Raging Bull and Citizen Kane.

They're very similar: both in monochrome, both with fascinating main characters, people who we watch with interest, but wouldn't necessarily like to meet.

Both the fictional Charles Foster Kane and the all too real Jake La Motta had potential for greatness. Both men proved to be their own worst enemy.

For Kane, it was his unresolved need for love and a home. He tried to do good, kind things for people, but in the end it was all so he could receive something back. For "just a movie", Citizen Kane is a remarkable piece of pop psychology.

For LaMotta, his paranoia got in the way of enjoying and building the relationships he needed to succeed. Perhaps because Raging Bull is based on a true story, the movie doesn't try to explain why Jake is like that. He just is. And that paranoia isolates him.

There's so much more to it than just these brief points, but you'll have to watch the movies. But what it made me wonder is - do I ever fall prey to these forms of self-sabotage?

Perhaps at the heart of Kane's and LaMotta's problems is ego. Self-consciousness can tend to make everything be about you - whether that's in self-aggrandisement, using your power to make others do your bidding, or in suspecting others' motives.

My Granddad used to say there were some people who just couldn't get out of their own road. A bit Irish, perhaps, but I think it's an accurate way to describe self-sabotaging behaviour.

My next question was, what do I do if I am sabotaging myself? Surprisingly (although I shouldn't have been surprised) I found my answer in the Bible.

It's very out of context, but will do for me: 1 John 3:18-20.

"18My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. 19This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. 20It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves." The Message

Taking the spiritual side out of that, so as to make this conversation accessible to people of all faiths, this helped me realise that it was a matter of ...

Just Doing It

All along I've heard over and over that love is not a feeling, love is expressed in the things you do. When you're confused, just love. And what's love?

That's in the Bible too. And - very considerately - management consultant Dr. Siegfried Buchholz translated it for the modern corporate world:

"If I could speak all of the world's languages and were a perfect communicator, but were unable to love people, I would simply be making noise, not reaching anyone.

If you love people, you have patience with them and treat them fairly. You do not permanently point out your own good points, or talk down to others. You speak with people, not to them.

If you love people, you can understand their feelings. You do not always seek your own good. You can control your ego, and do not take your frustration out on others.

If you love people, you do not hold a grudge, or repeatedly point out their old mistakes. You are not secretly happy when others fall, but rejoice when they are successful. If you love people, you will not give up. You trust them, believe in them, and give them hope and encouragement."

I love that - pardon the pun - because it gives an objective standard for loving behaviour. You can see it if it's there, and you can see if it's not there.

So if you're stuck or confused about life, measure yourself up against that definition of love. And do some lovin'. Heh... not like that! And not really like "random acts of kindness" either - kindness and love doesn't have to be random! It can be very intentionally incorporated into what we do, how we do it, and who we are.

So that's my answer - probably a grossly oversimplified answer to deep and complex problems of the personality. But at least it's worth trying.

Other thoughts on Raging Bull and Citizen Kane

What amazed me about both films was how popular they were, even when they broke one of the key rules of the filmmaking industry: the audience must like the protagonist.

Just goes to show that rules are made to be broken. And that we humans have a proclivity for watching in bemusement - like all the rubberneckers at a car crash.

Raging Bull was perhaps one of the most traumatic films I've seen recently - but compelling at the same time. Maybe that was because of the subject matter; maybe it was because of the strange beauty coming out of Scorcese's troubled artist's heart at the time it was made. Either way, I enjoyed it in a painful way. Y'know what I mean?

As for Citizen Kane... it is every bit as good as I had ever heard it was. I couldn't believe Welles was only 25 when he let's see... acted, produced, directed and wrote this his first ever film. That just defies belief.

And perhaps this is worthy of another separate post - how the film became a success because Welles had no experience and didn't know what could and couldn't happen. He just had the vision and made it happen - and his team with him.

Welles came from a radio background, and so am I, so in a funny way seeing this movie was like meeting an old friend for the first time. Roger Ebert in his commentary said that if you just hear the movie without the picture, you can still make sense of it. Not many other films you can say that about - particularly the special effects bonanzas we have these days.

On that note - and I am utterly digressing into absolute irrelevance here - people who complain about how special effects have taken the place of plot and character these days should watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I'm a real Trek fan, but that movie was extremely self-indulgent when it came to big scenes of (supposedly) awe-inspiring space scenery going on for what felt like hours. It's never as exciting to the audience as it is to the folks coming up with it. We can come up with it in our heads, thanks very much.

I'm about to qualify that statement, which means a) I'm tired, and b) I have digressed already way too much. I'm off now! See you!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The New York Times > Movies > Is a Cinema Studies Degree the New M.B.A.?

"Rick Herbst, now attending Yale Law School, may yet turn out to be the current decade's archetypal film major. Twenty-three years old, he graduated last year from the University of Notre Dame, where he studied filmmaking with no intention of becoming a filmmaker. Rather, he saw his major as a way to learn about power structures and how individuals influence each other."

Full Story

Who'd have thought this blog was part of a worldwide trend? :)

My latest scribblings for NZ Marketing Magazine

If you're in New Zealand you can read what I was up to in January in the latest Marketing Magazine.

The cover story looks at the future of direct marketing - and in fact the future of marketing. Very interesting stuff. It was hard to decide which bits to put in - there was just so much information that the story is really a 'highlights package'.

I looked at the conference industry, which brought to light some very interesting contacts in the area of communication and 'business theatre'. Perhaps more on that here later.

Finally my report on PR was fascinating to do, as it let me ask some of New Zealand's top PR gurus what they thought made a good PR person.

Best quote of the whole article was from John Bishop:

"Good management is good PR."

By the way, thanks John for the mention of the blog in your newsletter!

More FM is NZ's "Best Place To Work"

Radio station More FM is New Zealand's best small place to work. Not surprised - not only is it a lot of fun to listen to (when I actually listen) but I interviewed CEO Larry Somerville several years ago and he said you'd have to kill someone to get a job there.

Confused, I thought he meant being a murderer was a prerequisite - boy, and I thought the sales guys at Rhema were tough! No, he meant people were so happy there that no-one was thinking of listening.

Which contrasts starkly with the call centre industry Marie's in - where her company makes people pay $3000 if they leave within 12 months of starting - or the PR industry, where everyone I talk to seems to change jobs every 2 years. Is that the new 'normal'? Or is it just a sign of an unhealthy industry culture?

Anyway, here's the full story on Unlimited magazine's best places to work.

You tell 'em, Eleanor!

Fantastic quote from today:

"We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down."

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
U.N. diplomat, humanitarian, U.S. first lady

A nice tie-in to my previous post on Spider-Man 2. (Well, I thought so...)

Carly's Way

"...starting in 2000 the can-do attitude was killed by management choices intended to placate nervous investors and board members rather than benefit the company and its workers over the long-term."


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Podcasting - coming soon to Leadership Issues

Just giving you advance notice that I'll be uploading an MP3 interview soon - which means we will officially be podcasting. Well, I'm excited!

The interview is with Carolyn Taylor, author of the brand new book on business culture, Walk the Talk. Coming soon!

Stable leadership in an unstable world (Movie review: The Man Who Would Be King)

Over the weekend I watched The Man Who Would be King, a movie that's as old as me!

It's a rollicking good yarn - as you'd expect from a Rudyard Kipling story - but it has some serious lessons about the value of tradition in leadership planning.

If you haven't seen it, here's a very brief rundown (spoiler alert!):

Peachey Carnahan (Michael Caine) and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) are two disaffected ex-British soldiers in India with big plans. They're going to travel to the exotic (and fictional) kingdom of Kafristan, and use their wits and soldiering skills to become kings.

They make it through many dangers, and village by village, begin to fulfil their plans. Along the way, Daniel is mistaken for a god, the descendant of Sikander (Alexander the Great) who they revere.

At first Daniel's not having any of this, but Peachey persuades him that they can reach their goals much easier if the people believe he's some sort of god. Daniel agrees.

Gradually Daniel starts to believe his own press - or "get drunk on his own juice" as Adam would say - and when Peachey wants to take the treasure and go, Daniel says it's his destiny to stay and begin a line of kings.

As you might expect, things don't go well. The people discover he's not divine, and... well, you'll have to watch the film.

So what has that got to say about leadership? I'll bullet point it for the skim readers among us:
  • Tradition can be incredibly helpful. Witness the early scenes in the movie of Freemason loyalty to complete strangers. Because Kipling was a fellow mason, he could trust Carnahan and Dravot, and they could trust him.

  • Tradition can be a powerful excluder. Peachy and Daniel were only ever welcomed by the Kafristanis because they had guns and promised to help them

  • A leader must understand his people to effectively lead them. Daniel had great ambitions and a great (slightly romantic) sense of protection for the Kafristani people, yet he didn't even understand their language.

  • It's very, very important to remain goal-focussed, aware of the situation, and not get drunk on your own juice. How do you do this? One way is to take advice. Peachey knew that the glory was just going to Daniel's head, but Daniel wouldn't listen.

  • Have a genuinely good goal to start with. This wild pair had in mind to fleece a nation of its riches and get back to England, until Daniel was stirred by noble feelings of duty to 'his people'. Get all that out of the way first, and make sure what you're doing is the best, most noble thing you can think of.
That last point is probably the best advice I've given myself - or anyone - for quite some time!