Monday, July 31, 2006

Marketing Awards

It was a real pleasure to be part of the Marketing Magazine Marketing Awards last Thursday. One of the best-organised events I've ever been to, and that salmon was delicious!

It was fantastic to be part of an event where success is really really celebrated. Marketing is a fairly niche industry, but even Marie (my wife), who isn't part of the industry, came away inspired to excellence.

Some food for thought from David Innes, who was inducted to the Marketing Hall of Fame: "Marketing in New Zealand needs to use less science and more creativity and entrepreneurship."

Sitting beside Sylvia and Keith from the Marketing Association (formerly the Direct Marketing Association, with quite a focus on database marketing and measurability) I really had to think before I applauded. Does too much science hamper us?

It surely can if we apply it the wrong way; but true scientific-mindedness, combined with intuitive understanding, can pave the way to an exciting future.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Leadership is as leadership does...

I watched one of my all-time favourites Forrest Gump on the weekend, then downloaded a bunch of trailers for upcoming movies.

What a contrast!

Forrest Gump shows all the great virtues - courage, honesty, decency, simplicity - and it celebrates them.

All today's movies seem to do is celebrate cynicism, sexual experimentation, revenge, irreverence, and fear.

Sure, there's a place for all of those things in society ... but it seems the only great virtues you're getting on the silver screen these days is in kids' films like Cars.

Which makes me wonder, don't adults need the odd moral lesson or two? Or is Hollywood just jaded, not reflecting the hankering we have for some sort of moral framework to life.

Trouble is, when some people hear "moral framework" or similar, their worst image of religious fundamentalism comes up. Surely there's some middle ground, people?

Anyway, this post wasn't meant to be a beat-up on Hollywood. But it's true that movies affect every single person I talk to in my fragmented life - from my mate who works in a factory, to my wife's workmates in the call centre, to the senior managers and great thinkers I interview.

So, as leaders in whatever capacity, let's take responsibility for the things we take in. We've got a responsibility to be open-minded, yes. But we've also got the ability to choose what's good for us, and what's not.

For starters, I'd heartily recommend a dose of Forrest Gump!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Mind of Its Own book review

Continuing the theme of truth (not truthiness), yet another book on the subject came out last year, called A Mind of its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives.

A Mind of its Own covers similar ground to the first few chapters of Why Truth Matters, only in plain English. It looks at the question: how do we know the truth?

Unlike Why Truth Matters, this book doesn't dive into deep philosophical waters, but instead looks at research that shows us just how self-deluded us humans can be. We see how our brains massage the facts that come in, so we pay more attention to stuff that agrees with our prejudices, and play down anything that doesn't fit in.

In other words, it's very hard to be truly open-minded. And those who are often have a hard time of life, as the book points out:

"There is in fact a category of people who get unusually close to the truth about themselves and the world. Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even-handedly, and their predictions for the future is more realistic. These people are living testimony to the dangers of self-knowledge. They are the clinically depressed."

As you can see, there's a healthy dose of humour in A Mind of its Own. But interestingly, there is no self-doubt - or depression - evident from the writer, Cordelia Fine. As a research fellow in the school of Philosophy and Bioethics at Monash University, she knows her stuff, and the book is littered with real-life examples of people she has met in her psychology career.

Plus she's married to a kiwi, so she has impeccable good taste.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Innovation closer than you think

I actually posted something on my SimonYoungWriters blog! A very rare occurence, hence my posting of it here as well:

NZ businesses might be blinding themselves to key competitive issues. That's the message I've been getting from three entirely unrelated interviews recently.

Your competition is no longer the guy down the street, to paraphrase the discussions I've had with futurist Dr James Canton, Dr. Don Eigler, and Darryn Melrose, the new CEO of direct marketing agency AIM Proximity recently.

Instead, it could be the guy in a different country who serves your customers better than you. And you may never find out except by declining customer metrics... by your business slowly bleeding to death.

(Sorry, I'm in a dramatic mood)

That's the key take-out from these three interviews, all of which touched on the need to innovate and the need to get with it technologically. Specifically, the need for New Zealand to provide the broadband infrastructure we need, and the need for businesses to continually innovate for competitive advantage.

Innovation can be tiring. It can be a race. But innovative organisations also have a culture that provides the sense of adventure and discovery that people are looking for.

Go forth and innovate.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


There seems to be a lot of interest in the truth lately. Or at least a lot of books written on the subject.

Recently I finished The Truth About Lies; before that it was Seth Godin's All Marketers Are Liars , which looked at how the mind deceives its owner, and now Why Truth Matters, a real headache-maker.

There were some times I wondered "why am I reading this?" Passages like this one tended to blur the eyes and crease the forehead:

"Although Montaigne might have found the Pyrrhonist epoche a satisfactory response to the problem of the missing criterion of truth, Rene Descartes did not. In Discourse on Method, he tells how in his youth he had been haunted by the spectre of uncertainty..."

But as long as you're wide awake while reading it, Why Truth Matters yields some good insights. Or, at least, questions.

The whole first chapter asks, how do we know that what we perceive is reality? And why does it matter?

Lest this seem like a futile exercise in what Edward de Bono calls "mental masturbation", the last chapter (I cheated and skipped to it!) sums up the titular question/statement: why truth matters.

If you're really smart you'll see it on the back cover, which would save you the trouble of wading through the philosophical background to the question/statement!

On the back cover is written:

Truth matters because we are the only species we know of that has the ability to find it out.

Fascinating. A good book to get your brain thoroughly awake, and looking at the world you find yourself in.

Not bedtime reading!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A left-brained focus to life

I don't know if this is something new, or something I've just noticed... but there is a strategy, goal and key performance indicators for everything these days!

KPIs have been part of business for at least 100 years, along with the mantras "you can't manage what you can't measure".

But as I look at self-help literature and popular psychology, I realise that KPIs are becoming just as useful - and important - in personal and family life.

Take programmes like Supernanny, Demons to Darlings and The House of Tiny Tearaways. Parents are discovering what is, in essence, good management practice: set realistic, meaningful KPIs, measure them, and reward compliance consistently.

It's not rocket science. But it is science.

So why do we need this? Because we live in a pluralistic society, where truth is relative and instead of a unified ideal, you get to pick whichever ideal you prefer.

Trouble is, most people don't know where to start. People - all of us - are crying out for structure, for absolutes. Even those who argue against absolutism do so in absolute terms. We want - we need - rules, boundaries and common definitions.

What to do with that? I don't really know. I'm bucking the trend by not giving you 10 things you should do! :)

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Leadership Issue in today's Herald

This blog is all about leadership issues, but there's just one Leadership Issue in today's New Zealand Herald.

While it doesn't have my quasi-regular marketing column, The Leadership Issue of The Business does have some very good stuff on what makes a leader. Articles by luminaries whose names I have seen writing and speaking on the subject for years, people who have put their money where their mouths are.

The Business doesn't appear to be available online, so perhaps it's a good opportunity to go kill some trees, and some time, with a coffee and a paper.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Shrink Rap Radio

When Marie started studying psychology, I - ever ready to overwhelm with information - started looking for podcasts on Psychology.

There were a few universities offering podcasts of lectures, but nothing beat the fun-spiritedness of Shrink Rap Radio. Even the tagline "all the psychology you need to know... and just enough to make you dangerous" struck a chord with me!

What I really enjoy about it is the sheer variety of stuff that gets covered. And while I don't agree with all of it, it's not about agreeing, it's about joint exploration of ideas and themes.

Not only that, Dr. Dave talks with people from all walks of life who use psychology in their jobs - from cops to market researchers to blokes in an Aussie pub.

So consider this an old-fashioned, simple plug: go listen to Shrink Rap Radio. You'll enjoy it!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"We are monitoring your thoughts"

A "thought-monitoring form" sounds like something from the novel 1984, but it's actually a really helpful component of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, as explained in Change Your Thinking.

Often we are knocked around by thoughts and feelings that are buried deep within us. Because we don't recognise them, they control us. When we can bring them into the light, we're able to challenge these thoughts - or cognitions - because we see them for what they are.

The thought monitoring form is a simple form to use whenever you face anxiety, stress or any negative feeling. Here's the basic format, from page 38 of Change Your Thinking:





Thinking Errors (there's a whole list of common errors with a tickbox next to them)

Alternative, more balanced view?

What would I tell a friend who was in this situation?

Positive Actions:

The form is supposed to take you on a journey from helplessness to positive action, starting at the obvious (the situation and how you feel about it) through to what lies behind our reactions (thoughts, beliefs, thinking errors).

Asking questions like "what would I advise a friend to do?" helps us get beyond the double standard we often apply to ourselves - we see ourselves as worse or harder to deal with than other people.

This is also the stage where Socratic (or Sock-ratic) questioning comes in helpful too.

And finally, taking action - or at least identifying what action you can take - is incredibly liberating. It puts the ball back in your court; you can focus on the things you can change rather than those you can't.

More gems from Change Your Thinking

...and then I'm onto another book, honest!

On page 159 of the 275-page book, it picks up a common mistake in life and relationships:

Don't confuse the things you did with the person you are. You are much, much more than just a few behaviours.

Sounds so simple, yet how many of us have allowed ourselves to be branded - by others, or by ourselves - based on one mistake. Or alternatively, on one success?

For example (from the book):

Vicki unthinkingly passed on some information that was told to her in confidence, which unfortunately got back to her original source. Her friend is furious with her for 'shooting her mouth off', and Vicki is beside herself with shame and remorse. She tells herself that she is a traitor and a heel and should never be trusted again.

What we do is so different from who we are.

Here's another example that isn't based on a mistake, but just on everyday behaviour. I strongly relate to this one (although less so these days).

Kim feels like the odd one out at the advertising agency where she works. Although she has been there for almost a year, Kim doesn't feel particularly close to the other members of her team. The other people have different values and interests to her own, and Kim regards much of the conversation to be pretty superficial and banal. Most of the staff seem to get on well with each other, and at times Kim wonders if there's something wrong with her. She labels herself as an outsider.

The book then goes on to describe Kim's thought-monitoring form, a very helpful device, which helps her arrive at this conclusion:

"I connect well with some people and not with others. There is no reason why I should connect well with everyone. I got on well with the staff at my last job- people are all different. It would be nice to feel closer to the staff, but it's OK if I don't. That doesn't make me inferior or inadequate. It's OK for me to be who I am - I don't need to be anyone different."

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is about reframing reality in a healthy way. It's about saying "this is true, yes, BUT..."

More on the thought monitoring form tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Strong Men With a Tear in Their Eyes

It's OK for blokes to cry - but blubbing is strictly for the girls - 10 Jul 2006 - World News

Fascinating stuff! Turns out perceptions of men crying have changed, and there are three rules for crying that will get you the respect and admiration of your peers:

1. Cry about something if it's important
2. Don't blub. Just have a moist eye. It shows "the intensity of tears but also shows you are in control of yourself."
3. Be male. This is kind of hard to do if you're not!

But it's good news for me. I have very sensitive eyes and even when I'm not deeply moved a brisk walk in the cold weather can make me all teary. I just need to find some important things to appear to be crying about, and I'll appear, according to this, "a strong, powerful man."

Brings a tear to your eye.

Does your organisation need an "experience manager"?

I read in the latest Business to Business that Auckland Airport has appointed Lucy Thomas as its passenger experience manager. What a fantastic role!

The article says "she will develop and champion the visitor experience at Auckland Airport". And there's also a strong research component to her role, which is handy because she used to work at TNS as a senior qualitative researcher.

Great example of innovation, and hopefully one that will pay off for Auckland Airport.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Highly capable people

In the latest Management Magazine there's an interview with Daniel Di Filippo, PricewaterhouseCooper's "global leader of performance improvement", on the results of a survey of 1410 CEOs from around the world.

The survey looked at the increase of complexity in the role of a CEO, and what those CEOs believe can help them deal with that complexity.

Number one in the toolbox of capabilities to deal with complexity: having highly capable people. However, while they recognise that's what they need, good people are apparently hard to find.

It was kind of encouraging to me, particularly around this blog. There's a great need for individuals to be working at their full potential, whether they are entrepreneurs, visionary leaders or at any level of an organisation.

Friday, July 07, 2006

More on "head-to-head" learning

After trying to get a grip on the Iraq war, I thought I'd go further into dialectical debate as a way of understanding an issue.

Actually, that's not true. I just happened to get Plato's Republic: A Biography, and found that Plato's Republic is actually a set of dialogues, a common way to present philosophical arguments.

I was looking forward to a... well, a biography! A story with a beginning, a middle and an end. That's what was promised.

Instead, I'm getting a truncated commentary of the whole thing. That's the trouble with philosophers, they're not journalists. When a reader like me, who's new to the topic, needs a simple covering of the who what when where how why... in laymen's terms ... it's a bit disappointing to get the author arguing with the text almost before the story has started.

Having said that, if I'm in full "over-my-head" learning mode, I can get what's going on and, hopefully, understand the ideas behind Plato's Republic.

Having said all that, I'm three chapters in, so this book may well prove to be a bit better as time goes on.

Here's hoping!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Sock-ratic Questioning

In the book Change Your Thinking, author Sarah Edelman talks about how helpful the practice of Socratic questioning is to challenge our unfounded fears or "negative cognitions".

She says,

"Socratic questioning can be a useful tool for addressing biased thoughts because it helps us objectively evaluate our cognitions and challenge catastrophic predictions."

Next time you're worried, here are some questions Edelman suggests asking yourself:
  • Describe the situation you're worried about
  • What specifically do you fear might happen?
  • Rate the likelihood that this will happen (from 0 to 100%)
  • What evidence supports your worrying thoughts?
  • What evidence does not support them?
  • If it did happen, what actions could you take?
  • Realistically, what is the worst thing that could happen?
  • What is the best thing that can happen?
  • What is most likely to happen?
  • Are there any useful actions you can take now?
  • What would you tell a friend who was in your situation?
  • Realistically, re-rate the likelihood that your fears will be realised (from 0 to 100%).
Questioning yourself along these lines is really great for regaining control of your circumstances.

A variation on Socratic questioning

A few weeks ago my dear wife Marie was in a big tizz. (I know I shouldn't tell tales, but this is for the greater good... right?)

It was a familiar topic of worry - how to fit in the time needed studying with housework, family time and personal time. Because I have an aversion to repeating myself, I didn't really want to say much. But someone needed to help Marie get unfrazzled.

It just happened we'd spoken earlier that day about how puppet shows reach both children and adults on a level that ordinary conversation couldn't.

So... out came Ed the sock puppet - a complete stranger, who had a very caring manner about him.

Ed asked Marie what was wrong, why she was upset. Because Ed was new to the situation, Marie had to explain it from scratch - gaining some perspective in the process.

And besides, you can be mad at your spouse, but who can be mad at such a friendly sock puppet?

So next time you or your better half start to get crinkly around the edge, head to the sock drawer!

Ed says it works.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Head-to-Head Learning

Yesterday I wrote about over-your-head learning, and said that can only get you so far.

One way to go further is head-to-head learning.

In a nutshell, it's hearing both sides of an argument fully before arriving at a conclusion. Not so revolutionary, but there seems to be a dearth of it in a soundbite-driven cultue.

"What do you think of the war?"

Last year, Sandra asked what I thought of the war in Iraq.

I had to admit I had very little clue, because I have very little real knowledge of the real situation.

Instead, I've got what I guess most people have - sound bite arguments for and against.

  • Saddam was a bad man who killed many people.
  • The world is safer now he's not there.
  • What if the US had not gone to war in World War II?
  • War is bad because people get killed.
  • There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  • George Bush is stupid, evil and goofy.
Hardly intelligent arguments, although it's a very good point that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Anyway, I thought I'd best get some in-depth education, so I read two books, one for each side of the argument.

For the War

The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror isn't exactly about the war in Iraq, but it does champion America's role to build and encourage free societies around the world.

It's written by Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli cabinet minister and, before that, a refusenik dissident in the Soviet Union who was imprisoned and tortured under that regime. He speaks with great passion about the difference between a free society, like America, where you can express your dissenting opinion freely, and a "fear society" like Iraq under Hussein, where dissent voices are muted, imprisoned or killed.

Against the War

Failed States : The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy points a big, accusing finger at the United States for failing just about every aspect of its mission to uphold democracy, not only around the world but also at home.

Its author, Noam Chomsky, is an outspoken critic of US Foreign Policy. I'd heard of him previously in the documentary The Corporation, and also by him being described as dangerous by, I believe, the National Business Review.

He's used to being disagreed with, apparently, and his book is extensively footnoted with research into the sometimes quite shocking accusations he's making against America - interestingly, not just the George W Bush regime, but against American foreign policy dating back to 1819!

Unexpected Harmony
I'm using these books as examples of head-to-head learning, assuming that they're diametrically opposed. They are in terms of their conclusions about the US occupation of Iraq, but in terms of base ideas they harmonise remarkably. Both books agree that a genuinely free, democratic society is the most desirable way to achieve national prosperity and global security today.

My Take
So what am I to make of this head-to-head learning??

I'm definitely against a war waged on the basis of a lie. In that respect I take Chomsky's side. But I disagree with him that the longer America stays in Iraq, the more dangerous it is for America and the world. If America is actually helping the fledgling Iraqi government achieve and maintain control of their own backyard, let's not get them out until they're finished doing that job.

Of course, this is not my set-in-concrete position. Opinions based on current affairs must always be subject to what happens in those current affairs.

Happy Independence Day
Whoever's right, Chomsky or Sharansky, it highlights the importance of the democratic values that the Revolutionaries fought for 230 years ago. If you're reading this in the USA, may I wish you a heartfelt happy fourth of July!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Over-Your-Head Learning

"Crash course" - what images come up in your mind when you hear that phrase?

I ask because I recently realised that's how I've done most of my learning.

It kind of works. Kind of. Sooner or later you need to take a measured approach.

But to kick off the mind's metabolism and make you hungry for knowledge, there's nothing quite like over-your-head learning.

Here's how it works:
  1. What do you want to learn? It may be an industry you need to get familiar with very quickly ... for me it was healthcare when I did some work for a cord-blood bank. Or, on a more personal note, the filmmaking industry.
  2. Dive in. Find industry specific websites, read industry magazines, attend networking events just to watch, listen and learn. The important thing is to shut up and learn. Don't let your existing inklings get in the way in this initial stage. Suck in the new information like a vaccuum. Even when you don't understand it, which will be often.
  3. Pull back and assess. You probably have a whole heap of knowledge that doesn't yet make sense. Put it all out in front of you, metaphorically or physically. Start observing connections. Now's the time to start asking questions. Find people you trust, who don't look down on dilettantes or beginners, and who can give you straight, simple answers.
By the end of these three steps, you'll be surprised how much you actually know, particularly when you rub shoulders with those who have been educated the "proper" way.

As I disclaimed earlier, this won't get you all the way to where you want to be. But if you find you need to start somewhere, and that somewhere isn't the conventional "way in"... why not give it a try?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Back with the Mac

Welcome back. It's been a long time since I last posted here, but I have good reasons!

Main one is, I'm now a Mac user. Yes, the week before last - on my 31st birthday, in fact - I upgraded to a MacBook Pro. As anyone who's made the PC-Mac transition knows, there's a steep learning curve, and it's a little tricky to handle when there's lots of work on at the same time too.

However, I'm here, safe and sane. I think. Coming up in the next few days, an examination of learning styles. Nothing too academic, just my own observations of how I learn. I hope it's helpful.